Mar 28, 2024 | Personal Injury

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Losing a loved one is undeniably one of life’s most painful experiences, especially when that loss is due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. In such cases, the law provides avenues for seeking justice through wrongful death claims. However, time is of the essence when it comes to filing such claims. If you’re thinking about bringing a wrongful death claim, please contact a skilled personal injury attorney now for help.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

Wrongful death occurs when a person’s death is caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of another party. When this occurs, the deceased’s family members or beneficiaries can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party that caused the death.

In these cases, the statute of limitations refers to the time frame within which the deceased’s family or beneficiaries can file a lawsuit against the party responsible for their loved one’s death. Generally, this time frame varies depending on jurisdiction in which a person is filing the lawsuit. For example:

  • The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Washington state is three years from the date of the death.
  • The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in California is two years from the date of the victim’s death.

Consequences of Missing the Deadline

Failing to file a wrongful death claim within the statute of limitations can have severe consequences, such as:

  • Barred claims – Once the statute of limitations expires, your right to pursue legal action is generally forfeited, and your claim is barred. The court is likely to dismiss any claim filed after the deadline.
  • Loss of compensation – Missing the deadline means losing the opportunity to seek compensation for damages such as medical expenses, funeral costs, loss of income, and emotional suffering.

Grounds for Extending the Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations is generally strict, certain situations may warrant an extension. These situations pertain to:

  • Discovery of harm – In cases where the cause of death or the responsible party was not immediately apparent, the statute of limitations may be extended.
  • Minority or legal disability – If the beneficiary of the wrongful death claim is a minor or suffers from a legal disability at the time of the incident, the statute of limitations may be tolled (paused) until the beneficiary reaches the age of majority or the disability is removed.
  • Fraudulent concealment – If the responsible party intentionally conceals or misrepresents facts related to the wrongful death, the statute of limitations may be extended. Courts may deem it unfair to enforce the usual time limit when the defendant’s actions have hindered the plaintiff’s ability to file a timely claim.
  • Military service or imprisonment – In some jurisdictions, the statute of limitations may be tolled during periods of military service or imprisonment, as the individual may be unable to pursue legal action due to their circumstances.

Why Does the Statute of Limitations Exist?

The concept of the statute of limitations may seem unfair since it prevents a loved one from recovering damages for a person’s bad acts. However, the rule largely exists to promote the prompt resolution of legal disputes. Keep in mind that as time passes, witnesses move, documents get lost, and evidence becomes stale. The statute of limitations helps ensure that defendants are treated fairly by ensuring that claims are brought in a timely matter.

Contact Justice Through Compensation for Help

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident, please know that the law firm of Justice Through Compensation is here to help. Our legal team is skilled, experienced, and passionate in their representation. Let us shoulder the burden of an injury claim or lawsuit while you focus on healing from your injuries. Contact us today for the quality legal help you deserve.

* Main image at top from the National Cancer Institute