Wrongful Death Occurs From Negligence
When the negligence or intentional acts of another person takes away a precious life, it is called a wrongful death. This is a horrific occurrence that causes much damage to the surviving family members. These cases can be from a workplace accident, a vehicle collision, homicide, personal injury or even medical malpractice. Consequently, a plaintiff only has a specific period of time to file a claim and hold the other party responsible for the death. If they are even one day beyond this time frame, the claim will not be allowed. However, there are some exceptions to the rule.
Understanding The Statutes of Limitations
Each state has statutes of limitations that are set by the state law. This is the amount of time that a person can bring an action against another party. These limits are for crimes, debts, and other cases involving civil action. Since a wrongful death claim is considered a civil action, it too falls under the time limits of the statute. Most states have the same statute for personal injury claims and wrongful death. This law dictates the amount of time that a person has to bring their case to court. In most cases, it is two years. Some states allow anywhere from two to six years, but it can also be a shorter period of time. There are many things that can affect the statute of limitations and lengthen or shorten the time required to file.
Things that Affect the Statute of Limitations
There are circumstances that may alter the statute of limitations. For some cases, state law may dictate that a person only has a year to file a claim. If the government is the defendant in the case, there is often a rule for a shorter statute. When the victim is mentally disabled or a minor, the statute may be extended. If the matter involved fraud or intentional acts, the time may be different as well. In some cases, the statute of limitations may be shortened for specific causes of death, like medical malpractice.
Timing of the Clock
Generally, the statute of limitations starts from the date of the victim’s death. However, there are sometimes special rules that will allow a claim to go outside the general rule, like:
The Discovery Rule
There are cases when a plaintiff does not always know that a wrongful death has occurred. They may not know until a while after the death. In some cases, there is no way for a person to have a reasonable knowledge of this. For instance, the cause of death may not be apparent until the autopsy gives new information that is discovered after the death. Consequently, the statute of limitations will not begin until the misconduct is discovered. Keep in mind, if the cause of death is apparent, the court will hold the plaintiff to the statute of limitations rules.
Not all states will honor the extension times as some have decided to curtail it. For instance, some areas place a limit of the discovery dates for specific types of cases, including medical malpractice. This statute may state that the plaintiff may bring a lawsuit with two years from the date of discovery, but they may not have more than five years from the date of the misconduct that lead to the person’s demise.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations
Tolling is a legal term that means to stop or delay. Some states are tolling the time limit on the statute. These can arise in cases when a minor is involved. A minor cannot exhaust the statute of limitations due to their age. As soon as the minor becomes an adult, the clock will start ticking. The judge will often weigh the ability of the plaintiff to bring a lawsuit against the possible injustice of the defendant.
When it comes to product liability, these are special cases that are handled differently. Many states have put statues of repose that strictly prohibit bringing a claim regarding product liability when the product is of a certain age, or it has been off the market for an extended period of time.
Legal Assistance is Advisable
Those who are considering a wrongful death suit should consider retaining a wrongful death lawyer. These cases are complex and there are many rules and laws governing the claims. An attorney can further explain the statute of limitations and if there are any exceptions that apply to the case.