Wrongful death occurs is generally defined as a death through the actions or inactions of another party. The circumstances of a wrongful death lawsuit are often similar to the circumstances of a personal injury lawsuit, except that the plaintiff has tragically died as a result of their injuries. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks compensation for losses that surviving family members and dependents have experienced as a result of the injury victim’s loss.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil case, and all civil actions have time limits for when the claims must be filed. Once this time limit, called a statute of limitations, runs out, those who had been eligible to pursue compensation lose the right to file their claim. Each state has its own rules on statutes of limitations for wrongful death cases, ranging from a year or less to three years or more. It is important to seek the advice of an experienced wrongful death attorney to learn about how these rules might impact the timing of your wrongful death claim.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
In many states, the statute of limitations begins when the plaintiff discovers the cause of the victim’s death. This is known as the discovery rule. Occasionally, the discovery rule may start the countdown on a statute of limitations before a person’s death, if the cause of illness or injury was known by the victim or plaintiffs before the death in question. In other situations, the discovery rule may start the countdown after the final cause of death is determined, sometimes after an autopsy or additional research on the case. A wrongful death attorney will help you to determine if the discovery rule applies in the specific circumstances of your case.
Are There Ever Exceptions to a Statute of Limitations?
As an experienced lawyer can confirm, most courts are relatively strict about upholding the statute of limitations in civil cases, but there may be some exceptions. For instance, a minor child cannot exhaust the statute of limitations while they are still a minor. If a child decides to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his father, for example, the statute of limitations will not begin until he turns 18. In other cases, the court may opt to waive or delay the statute of limitations if the case meets certain specific criteria.
Since filing a wrongful death lawsuit within the statute of limitations is a time-sensitive and potentially complex process, you will want to seek the help of an experienced wrongful death attorney when planning the timing of your wrongful death claim. An attorney will help you to understand the laws that apply to your state and to determine the applicable next steps under the unique circumstances that you and your family are facing.