Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

Any personal injury case not properly filed in court and served on all parties within the applicable statute of limitations is lost forever – no matter how meritorious. You do not want to tempt fate with the statute of limitations.

The statute of limitations for personal injury claims in Washington is generally three years. Nevertheless, our general policy is to file any personal injury, medical malpractice, or similar claims within six months of the statute of limitations. Most cases are resolved well before that time-frame, but we do not get any closer than that. There are good reasons not to.

While it is true that filing the case tolls the statute of limitations for 90 days, this is a fool’s refuge. If the papers are not served properly and on the right person within the 90-day period, you might not know that until after the 90 days have passed. Then the case is lost forever.

A lot can happen in three years. People you need to serve papers on may move, marry and/or divorce, change names, or all the above.

Process servers and attorneys are human – and can make mistakes. In one case (not one of ours), the process server served a neighbor at the wrong house.[1] Even though the neighbor gave the summons and complaint to the correct person – so there was no dispute that the correct person got the papers – the case was thrown out.

Also consider the case of the two Beths – a mother named Elizabeth with a “z” and a daughter named Elisabeth with an “s.” Daughter-Elisabeth was involved in an auto accident. Mother-Elizabeth had nothing to do with the auto accident. The personal injury attorney – again, not our law firm – mistakenly named and served Mother-Elizabeth at her home, instead of Daughter-Elisabeth where she lived, which was not with Mother-Elizabeth. By the time the mistake was discovered and Daughter-Elisabeth was served, the statute of limitations had run. The case was dismissed.[2]

Not infrequently, the Court of Appeals rules on the statute of limitations in personal injury cases. These cases often do not go well for the personal injury claimant. Here is a blog article summarizing statute of limitations cases for 2012.

The solution is simple. We strive to settle out of court before and after cases are filed – and often the case is never filed.  Nevertheless, if a personal injury case must be filed – file it early. Early enough any snafus can be fixed. This is one of many good reasons to contact a personal injury attorney early.

by personal injury attorney Travis Eller


[1] Gerean v. Martin-Joven, 108 Wn. App. 963, 33 P.3d 427 (2001).

[2] Herrick v. Loeliger, unpublished (No. 62947-6-I)(December 21, 2009).