What is the Statute of Limitations in Auto Accident Cases?

A “statute of limitations” refers to the time that you have to file a lawsuit. You will likely lose your right to bring a personal injury lawsuit following a car collision if you file the suit after the statutory period expires. Since this loss means you’ll lose your ability to receive compensation for your injuries, it’s extremely important that you’re aware of how much time you have to file a personal injury claim.

What is the Statute of Limitations in Washington and California?

Statutes of limitations tend to vary for varying jurisdictions. This means that the statute of limitations for personal injury cases arising out of car accidents will depend on the laws of the state in which your vehicle accident occurred. The general rules for Washington and California are as follows:

  • In Washington, the statute of limitations for filing an injury suit after a car crash is three years.
  • In California, the statute of limitations for filing an injury suit after a car crash is two years.

If you try to file a personal injury suit after the statutory period expires, you generally lose your right to bring the lawsuit.

Let’s look at an example. Assume you were struck by another motorist on January 1, 2023. You suffered a neck and shoulder injury in the accident. Here, if the accident occurred in Washington State, you must file a personal injury lawsuit by January 1, 2026, or else you’d lose your ability to do so since the three-year statute of limitations period would’ve expired. If the accident occurred in California, you’d have to file an injury suit by January 1, 2025.

What is the Discovery Rule?

In some car accident cases, it’s not that simple for an injury victim to know that an injury has occurred. Sometimes injuries can develop years after an accident takes place. When such a situation arises, the “discovery rule” in Washington and California may permit a lawsuit to be filed after the statute of limitations expires. You generally have extra time to file a lawsuit after you discover the injuries that resulted from a collision. Since the discovery rule can grow complicated, it’s often best to consult with a car accident attorney to learn how exactly the rule may impact your case.

Is it Possible for the Statute of Limitations to Get Tolled?

Perhaps, yes. Sometimes, it may be possible to stall the statute of limitations by “tolling.” This most often happens when the injury victim is a minor. In most jurisdictions, a minor’s statute of limitations automatically starts up again after his or her 18th birthday. Tolling may also apply when the victim is determined to be mentally incompetent or is in bankruptcy.

Reasons for a Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations exist out of a sense of fundamental fairness. Memories fade, evidence is inadvertently destroyed, and witnesses move away. A limitations period both:

  • Encourages you to diligently pursue your claims, and
  • Protects people from having to defend “stale” claims.

Contact the Premier Injury Law Firm for Help

If you or a loved one was injured in an auto accident or a rideshare accident, please know that the Premier Injury Law Firm is here to help. Our legal team is skilled, experienced, and passionate in their representation. Let us shoulder the burden of an injury claim or lawsuit while you focus on healing from your injuries. Contact us today for the quality legal help you deserve.