Often times, properly analyzing when a statute of limitations begins to run – not just how long it runs – is crucial to timely pleading. In Dep’t of Transp. v. Seattle Tunnel Partners, 2019 Wash.App. LEXIS 281 (Was. Ct. App. Feb. 5, 2019), Division Two of the Court of Appeals of Washington addressed when the discovery rule starts the statute of limitations clock on a negligence cause of action. The court held that the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff knows that the factual elements of the claim against the defendant exist. The clock starts to run even if the plaintiff wants to investigate the possibility of other contributing factors or the defendant identifies opposing viewpoints on the theory of the claim.
In this matter, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) contracted with an engineering firm, WSP USA, Inc. (WSP), for an evaluation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2001. As part of this project, WSP retained the services of Shannon and Wilson (S&W), another engineering firm, to conduct geological profile logs, groundwater-pumping tests, and prepare technical memoranda. In 2002, WSP and S&W installed a pumping well with an eight-inch steel casing (TW-2). In 2009, apparently based on the work done by WSP and S&W, WSDOT determined that a bored underground tunnel was the best option for replacing the viaduct.