Introduction: The Most Important Thing
Oregon and Washington provide time limits for injury claims. These time limits are also known as the "statute of limitations." Just like any rule, there are exceptions and more than one time limits. When potential client consults with our office, we tell them this:
The most important thing I will tell you about are time limits!
Oregon Time Limits
Generally, Oregon requires your injury claim be resolved by settlement or filed in court within two years of the date of your injury. When we meet with new clients, we talk about the time limits involved in their claim. This the most important information we provide, because if that time limit runs, there is no claim. Sometimes, people may not realize that they actually have a claim until months or years after the careless or negligent act. In these cases, the time limit begins to run when the injured person discovers they have a potential claim. This "discovery rule" does not apply to all claims.
Some cases have more than one time limit. If you are making a claim against a state or local government agency in Oregon, you must provide a tort claim notice under the Oregon Tort Claims Act. This written notice must specify the time, place and circumstances surrounding the claim. The theory is that quick notice to the government agency allows it to investigate the claim and resolve it if necessary. You still may still be able to pursue a claim against the government agency if you can prove that the agency was aware of the claim within the applicable time limit, or you filed suit within that same time limit. However, it is always best to make sure you put your claim in writing to avoid problems. Lawyers call this time limit "jurisdictional." That means that you must prove you filed the notice, because if you do not, the court will dismiss your case.
In Oregon, the time limit for submitting a notice of tort claim is 180 days from the date of your injury for injury claims. In a wrongful death claim, the time limit is one year from the date of wrongful death. These time limits may be extended by the discovery rule or if the injured party as a child.
Some claims involving injury have a shorter time limit. For example, statutes that allow claims against landlords and unlawful trade practice claims against business owners have a shorter time limit.
Oregon law also allows for a claim against a tavern or social host that serves a visibly intoxicated person who then causes injury to another. These are known as "dram shop" claims. However, Oregon law also requires that written notice of intent to make a claim be sent to the person or business that served the alcohol. If the notice is not sent, the claim cannot go forward.
Here is the disclaimer: If you are not sure about the time limits that apply to your case, contact an attorney for consultation. Each case is different.
Washington State Time Limits
Time limits differ from state to state. Washington State has its own statutes that govern time limits. Generally, for a negligence claim, you must have your case resolved by settlement or filed in the appropriate court within three years from the date of the injury.
Washington also has its own tort claims act that sets out time limits and requirements for submission of a notice of tort claim. Generally, you have more time in Washington to make a tort claim against a government agency. However, you must submit much more documentation than what is required in in Oregon. Washington also has its own agency dedicated to processing claims against the state government.
Getting an Extension on Time Limits
In some cases, the parties (the person making the claim, and the person the claim is made against) may agree to extend the deadline to file a claim in court. This should be a last resort, and if you are looking at such an agreement, proceed with caution.
What is "Tolling?"
There are also some rules and statutes that well "toll" a statute of limitation or time limit. "Tolling" is like a "time out." The running of the time limit stops until certain things happen. The "discovery rule" we discussed is a kind of tolling, or suspension of the normal time limit to have the injury claim settled or filed in court. Claims involving injured children are also "tolled" for a period of time, but there is still an ultimate time limit, referred to as the "statute of ultimate repose." If someone is "incapacitated" in the legal sense, that may toll or suspend the running of the time limit.
In auto injury claims in Oregon, an injury statute of limitations time limit may be tolled or suspended if the property damage claim was settled, and the insurer did not notify the injured party about the applicable time limit for the injury claim. This is because the time limits for the property damage claim are different than for an injury claim, and there may be confusion about time limits when one claim arising from an auto collision is resolved by settlement, and the other claim is out there and unresolved.
Don't Wait Until the Last Minute
Someone will occasionally call us at "the last minute" asking for help on their injury claim. This dangerous. Although we can file our lawsuits electronically, and the internet allows us to better locate responsible parties that we need to serve the legal papers upon, people can be hard to find, and time limits are time limits. Other time limits, like tort claim notice limits or notice requirements for alcohol liability, may apply to your claim, so there is no advantage in waiting until the last minute if you think you will need help on a claim.
We talk to people about injury claims every day. If you have questions, contact us. We are here to help you know where you stand.