If you live in Washington state and are pursuing an injury or death claim — either with an insurance company or through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in court, through arbitration or other means – here are some answers about the process and the state laws that will affect your claim.
In this article, we’ll discuss a few key Washington personal injury and wrongful death laws. A discussion of the wrongful death statutes in Washington is beyond the scope of this discussion and will be discussed in a future article.
Statute of Limitations on Injury and Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Washington
In Washington, as is the case in each state, there is a time limit within which you must file your lawsuit in the state’s civil court system. This law is called a statute of limitations. In our statutory language, it is called “Limitation of Actions”. See RCW 4.16.
If you do not bring your claim within the time limit, you may be permanently barred from recovering any compensation for your injuries or the wrongful death of a loved one.
In Washington state, the statute of limitations is 3 years. See RCW 4.16.080. The clock starts running on the date of your accident or injury. It is absolutely critical to abide by this time limit, because if you try to file your lawsuit outside of the three-year window, your case will almost certainly be dismissed.
Claims against your own insurance company and controlled in part by this statute and in part by the wording of your policy. If you have any injury claim, please closely review the wording of your policy to understand your rights.
Comparative Fault Rules in Washington
In some cases, an injured person may be partially at fault for causing his or her own injuries — by sharing blame for the underlying accident, for example. If this is the case for you, the fact that you may share some percentage of fault does not entirely foreclose your claim. Instead, Washington state uses what is known as a “comparative negligence” approach, which means that whatever amount you recover will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to you.
So, if you recover $100,000, and you are determined by the judge or jury to be 20% at fault, your recovery would be reduced to $80,000.
If your personal injury lawsuit makes it all the way through trial, the court is required to apply this comparative negligence rule in awarding damages to you. And even if you’re only involved in injury settlement negotiations, don’t be surprised if an insurance adjuster raises the issue of shared fault in your case. This is a very common issue of contention in premises liability claims where a person is injured on the premises of another. However, I’ve had a number of cases where even in the relatively straightforward rear-ender case, insurance adjusters sometimes try to “shift the blame” to my client to minimize what they are required to pay out. However, in the substantial number of rear-ender cases, insurance adjusters acknowledge that liability is clearly with the following driver. See RCW 46.46.145.
Strict Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases
Washington has a specific statute, RCW 16.08.040, which makes the dog owner “strictly liable”, meaning regardless of the animal’s past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.
Specifically, the statute reads:
“The owner of any dog which shall bite any person while such person is in or on a public place or lawfully in or on a private place including the property of the owner of such dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
No Damage Caps in Washington Injury Cases
Although some states limit the amount of compensation you can be awarded for certain types of harm, or in certain types of injury cases, there are no such limits in place under Washington state laws. Washington courts have held that these kinds of damage caps are unconstitutional. There are, however, jurisdictional issues in each court.
For example, cases filed in State District Court are limited to claims not exceeding $50,000 dollars. In State Superior Court, which is a court of unlimited jurisdiction, claims valued at $50,000 or less can be heard through Mandatory Arbitration. Of particular note here is that in King County there is momentum to raise this limit to $100,000, thereby allowing more injured parties to take advantage of the procedural benefits of Mandatory Arbitration. An increase in the limit would free up more courtroom time for more serious civil cases as well as criminal cases, many of which can become backlogged due to courtroom congestion.
Liability of Government Entities in Washington
Finally, if your injury claim is against a local or state government employee or entity, special rules and limitations apply to your claim. You must file a formal notice of claim with the state or municipality involved within the statute of limitations period, which is 3 years. A notice of claim is not filed with a court, and it differs from a complaint, which is the document that typically initiates a lawsuit.
After you have formally put the state or local government entity on notice of your claim, you cannot file a lawsuit until 60 days after the date of your filing of the claim.
If you think that you or someone you know may be entitled to file as a claimant in a Washington State injury of wrongful death claim, please contact the W. Tracy Codd of W. Tracy Codd, Inc.
W. Tracy Codd has been representing persons involved in serious auto accidents since 1987. Call for a free consultation.