Washington Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules

Get an overview of the laws governing personal injury lawsuits in Washington State.

If you live in Washington state and are pursuing an injury claim -- either with an insurance company or through a personal injury lawsuit in court -- you may have some questions about the process and the state laws that will affect your claim. In this article, we'll explore a few key Washington personal injury laws.

Statute of Limitations on Injury 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. If you do not bring your claim within the time limit, you may be permanently barred from recovering any compensation for your injuries.

In Washington state, the statute of limitations is 3 years. 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.

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 underling 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 "pure 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 $10,000, and you are determined by the judge or jury to be 20% at fault, your recovery would be reduced to $8,000.

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.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases

In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In Washington however, a specific statute (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 16.08.040) makes the 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.

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.

For more on these types of claims, see this section on the subject.

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