Washington Statute of Limitations on Civil Cases

Statute of Limitations on Civil Cases| A Civil Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective on the Importance of Considering Washington’s Statutes of Limitations 

Every Washington civil lawyer worth their salt should know the general Statute of Limitations for various cases because they are so important. If you fail to file before the statute of limitations, absent a reason the law respects (for examples look at our section on Tolling and Fraud you lose the right to sue, or in other words, you lose the right to a remedy to the problem.


Because of this, there is an enormous body of Washington law surrounding the Statute of Limitations in various cases where lawyers have carved out all sorts of exceptions. Also, keep in mind that many cases can cross over and arguably fall within two different statutes of limitations making certain answers complicated so talking with a lawyer about your facts and the current state of things before relying on this data as it is just a primer on the subject.

Subject to changes in law, specific facts or further research, the common Washington State Court (Federal Law has a different set of Rules) Statutes of Limitations that civil lawyers often consult include:

Real Property (in general this means land). In general, you have ten years in order to file for the recovery or possession of land or real property.

Actions on Judgments. In general, if you want to collect on a judgment you got in court, you have ten years to do so or file for an extension of this period.

Actions on Written Contracts. In general, you have six years to sue for any liability or money owned from a written contract.

Actions on Accounts Receivable. In general, if someone owes you money incurred in the ordinary course of the claimant’s business or profession, you have up to six years to suing them.

Rent or Profit from Real Estate. In general, you have six years to sue someone for rent, profit or use of real estate.

Suits by Heirs or Guardianships. In general, heirs have 5 years to sue for real property sold by an executor. Guardianships have a similar statute of limitations with some exceptions for minors and those suffering from a disability.

Actions on Contracts not in Writing. In general, you have three years to sue on most obligations or contracts that are not in writing or arising from an obligation coming from a written instrument. This is basically the catch-all provision for all “unwritten” contracts.
– Examples include express oral contracts, oral loan agreements, wage claims under the Washington Minimum Wage Act, Unjust Enrichment, money wrongfully received or withheld, unjust enrichment claims, suits to establish and divide property of a committed intimate relationship.

Actions on Personal Injury. In general, you have three years to file a personal injury claim for “taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including an action for the specific recovery thereof, or for any other injury to the person or rights of another not hereinafter enumerated’.  This can get complicated as in some cases one is required to give notice before suing.

Medical Malpractice. In general, you have three years to sue for any act or omission as it relates to medical malpractice and health care claims that cause you damage, or, 1 year from when the patient should have reasonably discovered the injury. This one-year tolling provision is capped by law at 8 years. This can get complicated in Washington as in many cases one is required to give notice before suing.

Product Liability Cases – Resulting in Personal Injury. In general, in product liability cases, a “discovery rule” applies to the three-year statute of limitations. This means that the 3 year statute of limitations begins to run when harm caused was discovered or should have been discovered by the exercise of due diligence.   Be aware that almost all product liability cases are limited to the “useful safe life” of the product, which is presumed, but rebuttable to be 12 years.

Claims of Child Sexual Abuse – Personal Injury. These kinds of cases have all sorts of exceptions to the three-year statute of limitations because they often involve complicated memories and the discovery of injury years after the abusive event. In general, the three year period of time to file a claim does not start until (1) the act was perpetrated, or (2) the time that the victim discovered that an injury was caused by the act, or (3) the time the victim discovered that the act caused the injury.   The idea is that people may know they were sexually abused, but not necessarily develop problems or discover the connection between the abuse and problems till years later. Also, this statute is tolled, at minimum, until children reach the age of 18, and the tolling provisions can also apply to the intentional acts surrounding these kinds of cases as well as the negligent supervision of those who failed to protect the victim or prevent the abuse. If your considering one of these actions, best come in for a confidential consultation. We understand the dynamics surrounding these kinds of cases as well as the law involved in litigating them.  These should not be started lightly.

Taking, Detaining, or Injuring Personal Property. In general, if someone takes or injures your personal property, or you have to sue to get personal property back. In general, you have three years to do so.

Trespass or Waste on Real Property. In general, if someone trespasses on your land | real property or takes from your land, you generally have three years to do something about it.

Fraud. This is one of our favorite topics. In general, you have three years to file a claim against someone who defrauded you. Fortunately, the law generally does not start that time frame until the discovery of the facts constituting the fraud and/or sustains damage because of the fraud.   As usual, the law requires someone to exercise due diligence to discover fraud, but, in general it is our opinion the law bends over backwards to make sure someone can sue if they can.   Other legal concepts, such as estoppel begin to be applied to these kinds of cases because the courts like to avoid inequitable results if they can.
– In theory, this concept allows for suits over fraud that is 10, 20, 30+ years old!
– The burden is on the person claiming they were defrauded to establish that the facts constituting fraud were not discovered and could not be reasonably discovered. Courts tend to hold people accountable for actions they could have taken to discover the fraud and didn’t, but it varies by case.
– Mere suspicion is not enough, but notice that would lead a diligent party to further investigate, is notice of what that investigation would lead too.
– Keep in mind that there are a variety of specific laws that are written to handle certain kinds of fraudulent transactions like the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act or the Washington State Securities Act. If you’re the victim of fraud, call us immediately. We really like winning these kinds of cases.

Civil Penalty or Forfeitures. Unless a statute says otherwise, the civil penalties and time for forfeitures is generally three years, although the State of Washington only gets two years to bring suit.

Libel, slander, assault, assault and battery, false light, invasion of privacy, or false imprisonment. In general, you have two years to file suit in a Washington State Court on these kinds of claims. It is worth noting that false arrest has been characterized by Washington courts as falling within this statute. It is also worth noting that when a case involves these concepts and results in an injury to a person (that can be characterized as Actions on Personal Injury, which as a three year statute of limitations), courts look to the basic nature of what the complaint is about factually to decide which statute of limitations is appropriate. For example, trying to characterize an assault with a 2 year statute of limitations, into a negligence claim (with a 3 year statute of limitations) when the facts are really about assault probably won’t get by a judge, however, it is important to recognize that the characterization of a case and the facts can be argued so it is best to consult an civil lawyer | attorney before making any decision.

Penalties and Forfeitures by the State. In general, the State has 2 years if an action is brought by the state to enforce a penalty or forfeiture if the case is truly about penalties. It is worth noting that concepts surrounding fraud and discovery of the a condition apply to these kinds of cases, so the State may have more time to file unless reasonable diligence would have discovered the violation.

Consumer Protection Act. Claims under the Washington Consumer protection act are 4 years.

Catch All Provisions. As with most drafted laws, there are catch all provisions for situations that do not fit in the regular statutes.   Washington has such catch all provisions, including a 3 year statute of limitations on injuries to a person or the rights of another and a 2 year statute of limitations that applies to any other kind of case. For example, a 2006 case characterized the strict liability for damage caused by an abnormally dangerous activity as falling within this catch all. As civil attorneys | lawyers, it is important to remind people that the characterization of a case really boils down to how a particular judge would understand the facts so it is important to use a lawyer to help you weigh them.

Concluding Thoughts

Part of the reason we have taken the time to publish this Washington State information is to help people understand that consulting ethical civil lawyers on civil matters early on in the problem is wise to assuring you do not violate a time limit or end up “cornered” by the statute of limitations in a case.  Most people have lives, see lawsuits as inherently stressful, don’t want to take the time to call a lawyer or hope the other party will act in good faith and fix the problem. It is one thing to give someone a chance, or try to avoid a problem, but it is another thing all together to assume all lawyers are the same or to allow so much time to go by that you prejudice your case or situation. Our hope is that by knowing about statute of limitations, people and corporations will not put off setting an appointment to speak with a civil lawyers | attorneys about what is going on. Nothing is worse than getting cornered unnecessarily and getting screwed. When our office takes a case, we take the entire case, including the stress and responsibility for the right outcome. You will sense this the moment you meet us.

The civil lawyers | attorneys in our office have handled a wide variety of complicated cases over the course of our lengthy legal careers. We are a unique blend of courtroom experience, knowledge, temperament and nature. Our lawyers know cases are rarely as simple and our clients hire us because they want their lawyers | attorneys to serve their interests first. We are staunch, uncompromising, results oriented counsel. As lawyers and people, we take the time to go the extra yard in a fight. Whether acting in our role as counsel, advocate, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience working and fighting to resolve cases with our clients’ best interests in mind. We are a fierce team.

Choosing bad counsel can make your legal journey a long and difficult road.. Call us at 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment and assess what kind of team we are and how we litigate cases.


Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>