Statutes of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases

Statutes of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases

Any civil case, including a wrongful death action, has a time limit in which it must be filed. These limits are referred to as statutes of limitations, and when time runs out, a victim loses his or her right to bring legal action. States all have different statutes of limitations on wrongful death claims, and victims should speak to an attorney to determine whether they have a valid claim.

Discovery Rules
The limitation period in wrongful death actions starts when the victim discovers (or should have discovered) the cause of another person’s death. Some states’ laws include the fundamental right to sue for wrongful death, and courts there say that the statute of limitations begins when the injured party dies. Rules of discovery can be used to determine whether a decadent knew or should have known what caused the injury before they died, therefore starting the countdown before the victim has passed away.

Special Considerations
When wrongful death cases are derivative in nature (stemming from a personal injury claim), they may fall under the statute of limitations if the decadent had not brought a claim within the allotted time. In some areas, product liability actions are subject to different limitation periods that begin with the victim’s death, regardless of whether the suing party knew of the cause of death.

Some states have statutes of repose that bar liability claims after a product reaches a certain age. Such rules may be used in wrongful death suits due to defective products, especially those where the product has been off the market for a long time.

Tolling the Statute of Limitations
If a victim has met the statute of limitations, there are still options to consider. Plaintiffs can ask the court to waive the statute so they can file a lawsuit, but specific criteria must be met. It’s very uncommon for opposing parties to grant such a waiver.

Tolling (delaying) the statute of limitations is more common, but its acceptability depends on state law. Discovery rules could be considered a form of tolling in that they keep the clock from starting. For instance, a minor cannot use up the statute while they’re under the age of majority. Courts weigh the advantages of tolling against prejudices toward defendants.

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