When I was in law school and working for a law firm we had a client who was badly burned by a defective gas grill. The manufacturer was a Mexican company. I had to research how to serve the Mexican company as one of the defendants, found the answer in a treaty. A recent Washington Court of Appeals decision brought that experience to my mind.

The Larsons were residents of King County, Washington. They were involved in a motor vehicle collision with another driver, Yoon. The other driver was a resident of South Korean. The Larsons made injury claims.

The Larsons hired a personal injury attorney (not our law firm). Two weeks before the statute of limitations was to run, they filed a personal injury lawsuit—giving them by law 90 days to serve the defendants. Their personal injury attorney served the Washington Secretary of State relying on Washington’s “long-arm” statute—a law used to serve out-of-state drivers.

An attorney hired by Yoon’s insurance company moved to dismiss, arguing that a treaty to which both South Korea and the U.S. are parties governs the correct method to serve a South Korean resident. Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties take precedence over conflicting state laws.

The trial judge disagreed, and denied the summary judgment motion. Yoon’s attorney appealed.  The Court of Appeals overruled the trial court judge, and ordered the case dismissed.[1]

This unfortunate result (again, not our law firm) illustrates the importance of filing a personal injury lawsuit well before the statute of limitations runs.  Ideally a personal injury case can be settled without filing a lawsuit, but that is not always possible.

If a lawsuit must be filed, it is best to do so well in advance of the statute of limitations deadline. In that way, if there is any issue with the service of the lawsuit documents, these can simply be served again if need be. But, if the statute of limitations has run in the meantime, it is too late to re-serve.

We generally file personal injury lawsuits at least six months before the statute of limitations deadline, but occasionally make exceptions—such as when a potential client contacts us with less than that amount of time left.

If you have questions about a personal injury claim you should seek a free case evaluation early.

[1] Larson v. Yoon, ____ Wn.App. ____ (No. 71561-5-1. Published May 4, 2015.).