Personal injury cases are subject to a statute of limitations, and if the injured person does not bring a lawsuit prior to its expiration, he or she will be time-barred from doing so. Washington car accident attorneys know that Washington law is a little more complicated than other states on this issue. In Washington, the lawsuit is deemed commenced at the earlier of filing the complaint or serving a defendant with a summons. Once one of these actions is achieved, the statute of limitations tolls for 90 days to allow the plaintiff to complete the other action. If a defendant is not served within 90 days from the filing of the complaint, the action is deemed not to have commenced for the purposes of tolling the statute of limitations. Likewise, if the plaintiff first served the defendant and does not file a complaint within 90 days, the lawsuit is deemed not to have commenced. RCW 4.16.170. Thus, in Washington, filing the complaint and serving a defendant are equally important in regard to the statute of limitations. Even if the plaintiff files the complaint within the applicable period, the case may still be time-barred if he or she does not achieve service within 90 days of filing the complaint.
A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a lawsuit had been timely commenced when the defendant argued the plaintiff had only served an improper defendant within the 90-day window. The plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident with the defendant driver. He filed a lawsuit against the defendant driver and the Washington company he alleged was the defendant driver’s employer. The plaintiff served the employer. He subsequently amended his complaint to add a Georgia company, which he also alleged to be the defendant driver’s employer.
The plaintiff attempted to serve the defendant driver by mail and through the Secretary of State, pursuant to the nonresident motorist statute. The defendant driver ultimately filed an answer, denying the paragraph that alleged the named entity was his employer. The defendant driver then filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the claim was barred by the statute of limitations because the plaintiff had failed to serve any proper defendant before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations or within the 90-day tolling period after he filed his complaint. The defendant driver argued that his employer was actually an Indiana corporation that had never been named in the lawsuit or served.