Washington Supreme Court Allows Three Year Statute of Limitations for Idaho Accident Involving Washington Residents
So what happens when an accident occurs in Idaho, but strictly involves Washington residents.
The present case involves a car driving through Idaho. The driver was a Washington resident, as were the passengers. When the vehicle rolled (allegedly due to excess speed in icy conditions), one of the passengers sued the driver.
Here, the suit was brought in King County Superior Court for the State of Washington. The trial court dismissed the claim as having missed Idaho's two year statute of limitations, reasoning that under Ellis v. Barto, 82 Wn. App. 454, 918 P.2d 540 (1996), Idaho law applied given that it involved Idaho's rules of the road. Division One of the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Idaho had the greater interest in applying the law of its state to cases involving interpretation of its rules of the road. A similar, but not identical, argument.
The Supreme Court took a different route in this matter. Under conflict of laws, one must first determine if the laws are in conflict. Only then do you start looking at who has the bigger interest in having their law applied to the case. This is a step both the trial court and the court of appeals missed in their analysis.
At first glance, it appears this is most definitely the case, as two year versus three year statute of limitation appears to be a conflict. However, statutes of limitations are not considered to be a substantive law for conflict of law analyses. See Rice v. Dow Chem. Co., 124 Wn.2d 205, 210, 875 P.2d 1213 (1994). In essence, once you identify the conflict and choose the law, then that state's statute of limitations apply under the Uniform Conflict of Law Limitations Act, Ch. 4.18 RCW. There of course is a limited exception to this, if the other state's statute is so unfair as to not afford any real opportunity to sue, but the difference between two and three year statutes is not an unconscionable one. The case differed from Ellis, which involved conflict of law issues as to permissive use, comparative fault, and rules governing vehicle turnarounds.
The supreme court then looked as to whether an actual conflict existed under the laws of negligence and found no conflict. As their was no conflict, there was no need to turn to Idaho law, and Washington's statute of limitations applied. Though the states had differing speed limits, this case was about driving too fast for road conditions, regardless of the speed limit.
There is one area where I think the supreme court fudged a bit. Though the case was primarily about negligence laws generally, this does involve the application of speed limits to some extent. Idaho's speed limit was 75, and the question is whether it was reasonable to set the cruise control to 82 given the road conditions AND the speed limit. The Washington Supreme Court ignored the interplay between the two to come to the result it wanted. However, given the decision was unanimous, I don't see a great chance of any easy differentiation of later cases.
Our Issaquah, Washington Attorneys are skilled at application of conflict of law statutes, preemption law, and other methods of construction and justiciability. Allow Issaquah Law Group to assist you with your litigation needs across Washington State.