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How Long Do I have to File a Car Accident Claim in Washington?

December 30, 2022

Car accident claims and lawsuits are by far the most common personal injury cases in Washington. Thousands of car accidents occur on the roadways in Washington annually, with 82,152 total car accidents reported in 2021 resulting in 2,502 serious injuries and 575 fatalities. The majority of these claims settle out of court, but when injury victims and the insurance providers of the at-fault party can’t come to an agreement on compensation, the case moves forward into a lawsuit in a Washington court.

It’s important to understand the state’s statute of limitations for filing car accident claims to ensure you file your claim in a timely manner and with the maximum chance of a favorable outcome.

How Long Do I have to File a Car Accident Claim in Washington?

Washington’s Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Claims

Title 4, Chapter 16, Section 4.16.080 of Washington’s Revised Code sets a statute of limitations for car accident claims at 3 years from the date of the accident. Injury victims have up to three years to file a claim with an insurance company and follow through with a lawsuit if necessary. This limit serves several purposes:

  • It helps ensure that evidence in the case is still available and fresh
  • Any eyewitness testimony remains recent and more reliable
  • It prevents defendants from the ongoing threat of lawsuits long after the date of an accident
  • It prevents Washington courts from being tied up with lawsuits for which there is no longer reliable evidence or testimony

While filing a claim immediately after an accident may mean the injury victim doesn’t yet fully understand the economic consequences of the accident, waiting too long to file a claim degrades the quality of evidence needed to prove fault and damages. In most cases, a court will simply toss out a case filed past the 3-year statute of limitations.

Exceptions to Washington’s Statute of Limitations

Washington law allows several exceptions to the 3-year limit for filing car accident claims, including the Discovery Rule. Because some injuries or their long-term effects aren’t discovered until long after an accident, the state allows the 3-year time limit to begin on the date of discovery rather than the date of the accident. This discovery rule also covers accident cases in which a defective product in the vehicle is found to be the cause of the accident and the defect isn’t known until a later recall. In a case like this, the 3-year limit begins on the date of discovery.

If the victim of a car accident injury is a minor at the time of the accident, he/she has up to three years after their 18th birthday to file a claim. Also, if the victim is incapacitated for a period of time after the accident, such as spending weeks in a coma, or requiring months of rehabilitation to regain adequate cognitive function, the 3-year limit doesn’t begin until the victim’s cognitive faculties return and they are capable of making decisions on their own behalf.

Why the Three-Year Limit Doesn’t Mean You Should Wait

While Washington allows up to three years for filing accident claims, it’s important to file as soon as possible once you have the following information:

  • A complete medical report of your injuries, including treatment plans, prognosis, current medical bills, and estimated medical costs for future treatment
  • Proof of income and estimated time lost from work and future lost wages
  • The police report of your accident
  • The contact information and insurance information of other parties involved
  • The contact information of eyewitnesses

Once you’ve gathered this information, contacting a Seattle car accident attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your case helps to maximize your chances of recovering full compensation for your economic and non-economic damages.

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