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Washington Statute of Limitations

October 28, 2022

Many criminal cases are subject to statutes of limitations, but all civil cases fall under various statutes of limitations. A Statute of Limitation is a state law governing the time period in which a plaintiff may bring legal action against a defendant. Even ancient governments in Rome and Greece set these limits in their justice systems.

Time limits in civil cases exist to protect defendants from living under the constant threat of civil lawsuits and unfair prosecution many years after an alleged accident or incident when memories fade and evidence becomes lost. Washington’s State Legislature bears the responsibility of setting time limits for civil cases, or the “legal countdown window” beginning from the day of an accident or incident. In setting these time limits, the State legislature attempts to set a balance between allowing victims ample opportunity to file claims but without allowing ongoing, limitless litigation.

This not only helps support justice for all sides but also prevents delays, minimizes fraudulent claims, and frees up courtrooms and litigators for more current cases.

Washington Statute of Limitations

Understanding Washington’s Statutes of Limitations on Civil Lawsuits

Statutes of limitations in civil cases limit the threat of lawsuits and help to preserve evidence integrity for both physical evidence and witness statements. These mandatory time limits include the following:

  • A 3-year time limit for personal injury cases beginning from the day of the accident or in some cases, from the time a victim discovered the injury
  • A 3-year time limit for property damage cases
  • A 3-year limit for fraud
  • A 3-year time limit for trespassing
  • A 6-year time limit for debt collection
  • A 6-year limit for rent collection
  • A 2-year time limit for slander or libel cases

In most cases, missing a statute of limitations prevents individuals from filing a lawsuit as the defense would immediately ask for a dismissal on the grounds of the relevant statute of limitations. After a significant passage of time, key information and evidence may be lost, leaving defendants unable to protect themselves. Unlike those suspected of violent crimes, it’s considered unjust for defendants in civil lawsuits to have to defend themselves against actions many years in the past.

Only under very limited circumstances might there be exceptions to Washington’s Statutes of Limitations. A Seattle personal injury attorney can help you to understand your rights in your own unique case.

Civil vs Criminal Statutes of Limitations

Washington courts have a dual function to serve the public through civil lawsuits and to act as part of the judicial process for criminal cases. Both areas of state law can impose statutes of limitations on all claims and charges. The difference in the way states set these limits depends on the nature of the offense and whether it’s part of the criminal justice system or a civil lawsuit.
In Washington, some crimes have no statutes of limitations, including the following:

  • Murder
  • Arson resulting in death
  • Abuse resulting in homicide
  • Vehicular homicides
  • Hit-and-run accidents that cause death
  • Rape of minors under age 16
  • Child molestation

All other crimes have statutes of limitations ranging from 3 to 20 years depending on the severity of the crime.

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