How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injuries?
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How Long After a Car Accident Can You Claim Injuries?

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Posted on March 28, 2024

A car accident is a distressing experience, especially when it involves injuries as well as property damage. Some injuries are critical and immediately obvious, requiring emergency medical care on the scene and in the hospital. Other injuries are not as obvious and may develop symptoms in the days and weeks following. For instance, a nagging backache may end up diagnosed as a burst (herniated) disc, weeks or even months after the accident. But how late is too late for a car accident injury claim in Washington?

How Does Washington’s Statute of Limitations Apply to Car Accident Injuries?

Car accident injury claims are a type of personal injury claim in Washington. Like all states, Washington imposes a time limit on personal injury lawsuits—a statute of limitations. This time limit not only prevents defendants from the indefinite threat of a lawsuit but also ensures that evidence remains available and eyewitness testimony reliable should a case go to court.

Washington’s statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits is three years from the date of the accident.

It’s helpful to understand the distinction between a car accident claim and a lawsuit. Car accident claims for property damage and injuries are made against the at-fault party’s auto insurance coverage.

The case only becomes a lawsuit if the insurance company disputes their policyholder’s fault, undervalues the claim by offering an unacceptably low settlement, or if an injury victim files a personal lawsuit against the driver or against a third party for extensive damages like medical costs, lost wages, and permanent income loss due to disability as well as pain and suffering.

If the injury victim requires a lawsuit, the plaintiff (injury victim) must file the petition before the statute of limitations expires, which is three years in Washington.

Some injury victims don’t decide to file a lawsuit for months or even years after an injury, often once they fully understand the scope of the damages.

Are There Ever Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations on Car Accident Injury Lawsuits?

In limited circumstances, the state might delay—or toll—the state’s statute of limitations for car accident claims. For instance, in the example above, if a back injury diagnosis months after an accident connects the injury directly to the accident, the statute of limitations begins on the date of discovery under the delayed discovery exception. The court may also extend the deadline if the injury victim is unconscious or incapacitated for some time after the accident.

In these cases, the clock begins ticking on the date the victim regains cognitive capacity. If an accident occurs to a minor, they have up to three years after their 18th birthday to file a lawsuit. Finally, if the at-fault driver flees or isn’t identified until sometime later, the statute of limitations starts on the date they are identified or apprehended.

If an injury victim attempts to file a lawsuit past Washington’s three-year statute of limitations, the court is likely to throw out the case unless it falls under one of the relatively uncommon exceptions. If you need help with determining if you have a case for your car accident, get in touch with a Kent car accident lawyer from Caffee Accident & Injury Lawyers today.