WHAT IS A STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS, AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
If you’ve had a personal injury claim, you may have heard the phrase “statute of limitations” used a lot. So what is a statute of limitations, and why should you care?
Every state has laws (or “statutes” in legalese) limiting the time that people have to file certain types of lawsuits. In Washington, RCW 4.16.080(2) limits the time in which a person can file a personal injury lawsuit to no more than three years from the date of the injury-causing event. If someone with a personal injury claim does not file a lawsuit within the three-year time period, the claim is forever barred. Any attempt to file a lawsuit after the three-year period results in automatic dismissal.
So why should you care about the statute of limitations? You may be thinking, “I don’t want to file a lawsuit anyway, so I’ll just continue negotiating with the insurance company after the three-year time limit passes.” What you don’t realize is that your bargaining power comes from the only thing that gets the insurance company’s attention: the financial risk of a favorable jury verdict that exceeds the company’s current offer.
From the insurance company’s point of view, if you can’t do anything to prove the value of your injury claim, the claim has no value. So once you’ve lost your right to file a lawsuit on your claim, you’ve lost all your bargaining power. That is why any offers an insurance company extends after the three-year period passes—if any offers are extended at all—are drastically reduced in value. The insurance company knows that after the three-year period ends, any lawsuit you file will be dismissed. There will be no negative consequence to the insurance company for simply denying your claim if you have waited too long to file a lawsuit.
This is why you must pay attention to the statute of limitations, even if you don’t think you want to file a lawsuit—you need to resolve your personal injury claim during the time in which you have maximum bargaining power. If you have an attorney help you with your personal injury claim, the attorney will make sure that at the very least, a lawsuit is filed before the three years runs out so that your chance to get a fair settlement is preserved.