The state of Washington has its own rules for slip and fall injury claims. In this article, we'll look at a few key points of these laws, including the time limits for filing a civil lawsuit in Washington state court after a slip and fall. We'll also examine the special rules that apply to cases where the injured person is found partly responsible for the slip and fall accident and the special rules that apply when a slip and fall case involves the possible legal liability of the government.
Washington Slip and Fall Accident Lawsuits: Time Limits
If you've been injured in a slip and fall accident and want to get relief from the civil court system, Washington law limits the time you have to file a lawsuit in court to three years, starting as of the date of your accident. If you don't file your case in court within three years, you'll almost certainly be barred from bringing it to court at all.
It's helpful to note that this three-year time limit doesn't affect the time you have to file an insurance claim after a Washington slip and fall, just a court-based lawsuit. Still, it's a good idea to file your insurance claim promptly after a slip and fall accident. If you delay, your three-year time limit on lawsuits may expire before the insurance company has finished resolving your claim. If the time limit expires, so does your chance to bring your case to court -- or to make a credible threat to do so -- if injury settlement negotiations with the insurer stall or fail.
What If I'm Partly at Fault for My Slip and Fall Injury?
Washington applies a "pure comparative fault" rule to cases in which the injured person is found to be partly at fault for his or her own slip and fall injury. This rule works to reduce the amount you can recover, based on the percentage of fault assigned to you.
Here's an example. Suppose that you're shopping in a Washington grocery store one day. You're busy examining your shopping list and so you don't see a puddle of juice that another shopper has spilled in the aisle in front of you. You slip and fall in the puddle and are injured. When you file an insurance claim or a lawsuit, the insurance adjuster or jury examines your case and decides that your medical bills, lost wages, and all other damages equal $30,000. The adjuster or jury also decides that you are 10 percent at fault for the accident.
What happens to your award? Under Washington's comparative fault rule, your total damages amount is reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault assigned to you. In this example, that means you can receive $27,000 -- or the $30,000 total minus $3,000 representing your 10 percent of the fault. In a lawsuit situation, the court will definitely follow this rule; it's debatable whether an insurance adjuster will apply it, but it's a safe bet that they will at least raise it if you seem to bear some degree of fault for the accident.
Because Washington uses a "pure" comparative fault rule, this calculation remains the same no matter how high the percentage of fault assigned to you is. For example, if you were assigned 90 percent of the fault in the above example, you would still be able to recover $3,000 from another at-fault party (technically anyway).
When the Government is Involved in a Washington Slip and Fall Claim
Some slip and fall accidents involves the potential liability of a government agency or entity. For instance, if you trip on a broken staircase in a government courthouse or slip in an oil slick on a government parking lot, you must follow the special rules that cover injury cases against the government.
In Washington, you have three years from the date of your slip and fall accident to file a claim with the state Office of Financial Management or with the city or county responsible for the condition that injured you. Claims against Washington state should be filed on the state's Standard Tort Claim Form Packet. Claims against local government units may be filed either on the state's Standard Tort Claim Form or on the local government's own claim form, such as this Claim for Damages form for the City of Seattle. More information is available from the Washington state Office of Financial Management website.