Did you know that a governmental body can only act, and thus be negligent, through its employees? Like the federal government prior to 1946, the State of Washington was immune from tort liability prior to 1961. In that year the legislature enacted the Tort Claims Act, permitting claims against the state. The Washington Supreme Court has stated that the waiver of sovereign immunity “functions as a promise that the State and its agents will use reasonable care while performing its duties at the risk of incurring liability.” Immunity for the state’s political subdivisions and for municipalities was eliminated in 1967, subject to certain conditions. As a result, state agencies and municipalities are subject to liability for damages arising out of their tortious conduct in much the same manner as a private person or corporation.
To assert a negligence claim against the state, the injured party must show that the state’s conduct would be actionable if it were done by a private person in a private setting. If the injured party would have no cause of action against a private person for the same conduct, then he or she has no cause of action against the state.
In order to prosecute an action against the state for the negligence of a state employee, an injured party must first file a claim with the state’s risk management office. Until the claim is presented and filed, the injured party cannot commence a lawsuit against the state. The applicable statute of limitations is not affected by the claim presentment and filing requirement. Instead, the applicable statute of limitations begins, and continues to run, as if no claim had been presented.
A claim presented to the state should be signed and accurately describe the conduct and circumstances leading to the injury or damage. The claim shall also include:
- A description of the injury or damage;
- State the time and place the injury or damage occurred;
- Sate the names of all known persons involved;
- Include a statement of the amount of damages claimed; and
- Include a statement of the actual residence of the claimant at the time of presenting the claim and for the six months immediately prior to the time the claim arose.
A similar claim-filing requirement is typically imposed by political subdivisions and municipalities. Where a claim-filing requirement has been adopted, a properly filed claim is a precondition to filing a lawsuit. If the injured party waits until shortly before the expiration of the statute of limitations to file an action, but has not observed the sixty-day waiting period, the claim may be barred.
 RCW 4.92.090.
 RCW 4.96.010.