Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: What You Need to Know in Your State
October 6, 2021 | Wrongful Death
Every state has a deadline for filing wrongful death lawsuits. This deadline, referred to as the “statute of limitations,” varies depending on where you live. Some states give claimants two years to file their lawsuits. Other states have longer filing deadlines.
Failing to file your case within your state’s timeframe could have negative implications on your civil suit. Even if you have a valid case, the courts could dismiss it with prejudice, meaning that you cannot file it again.
Most wrongful death cases don’t require lawsuits
Before we go any further, here’s one important thing to keep in mind: most civil cases never make it to court. They’re usually resolved through insurance settlements.
Odds are, once you identify the liable party, you can resolve your case through negotiations. However, you may need to file a lawsuit if:
The insurer won’t agree to settle your case
Some insurance companies are notorious for denying valid claims. If the insurer does not offer a fair settlement, we may consider filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party.
You want to seek damages, like pain and suffering
While this can’t be said for every policy, many insurance plans only account for economic damages, like medical bills and property damage costs. If you want to recover non-economic losses, like pain and suffering, sometimes, litigation is your only route.
The at-fault party did not have insurance
If the at-fault party in your case did not have insurance, your lawyer can move ahead to filing a civil lawsuit since negotiations may not be feasible. Although certain entities are required to carry insurance, not everyone abides by this mandate.
Remember: the statute of limitations applies to lawsuits––not insurance claims. The liable party will have its own filing deadline regarding your case. The court system has another. Acting within your state’s mandated deadline is a great way to protect your right to damages.
How long do you have to file your lawsuit?
Your filing deadline begins from the date of your loved one’s passing. Earlier, we mentioned that in some cases, you only have two years to file your lawsuit. Your filing deadline begins from the date of your loved one’s passing.
So, suppose that your loved one passed away on September 20, 2020. You would have until September 20, 2022, to file your lawsuit.
Your lawyer can tell you how long you have to file your lawsuit, so they can prepare your case before the deadline.
Some exceptions could extend your timeframe
The statute of limitations is, for most claimants, a strict deadline. However, not all situations are the same. Based on the details of your loved one’s passing, you could get an extension. This could be the case if you were a minor at the time of your loved one’s passing. Here, you would have two years from the date of your 18th birthday to file.
Some wrongful death cases arise from criminal acts. If your loved one passed away from vehicular homicide, for example, the courts could extend your filing deadline.
These things do not extend your filing deadline
While some exceptions could toll the statute of limitations, the following do not:
- Negotiating with the insurer
- Gathering evidence
- Interviewing witnesses
- Grieving the loss of your loved one
- Determining the overall cost of your damages
- Making funeral and burial arrangements
If you have any questions about your case’s specific filing deadline, consider reaching out to a wrongful death lawyer. They can evaluate your case and explain which deadlines apply.
Filing your case within the statute of limitations lets you do these things
By filing your case within the appropriate deadline:
You give yourself the right to pursue the at-fault party for damages
Wrongful death lawsuits are not usually filed against insurance companies.
Instead, claimants usually file lawsuits against:
- Individuals. You could sue another person if their negligence caused your loved one’s passing. Examples can include motorists, business owners, and property managers.
- Government departments. If your loved one passed away due to a hazardous roadway defect or negligent state-run nursing home, you could file a lawsuit.
- Product manufacturers. To sue a product manufacturer, you don’t prove negligence. You must prove that the product in question caused your loved one’s passing.
- Businesses. If your loved one passed away because of someone who was on the job, you could sue their employer.
By acting within the statute of limitations, you retain the right to sue the party that caused or contributed to your loved one’s passing. Otherwise, the court could dismiss your case.
You allow yourself to seek damages insurance claims don’t cover
When you file a wrongful death claim, you can only pursue damages up to the liable policy’s limits. So, if your loved one’s final medical bills cost $20,000, but the liable policy only covered $15,000, you could have to pay the remaining amount out of pocket.
Litigation offers a way to seek the full cost of your losses.
You could seek these losses through a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of parental guidance and household services
- Loss of consortium
- Your loved one’s end-of-life medical expenses
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of inheritance and income
You can prevent a similar outcome from happening again
Your wrongful death lawsuit could prevent a similar event from happening to someone else. For instance, if your loved one passed away after using a defective product, this defect could have affected an entire line of items. By alleging that the product caused your loved one’s passing, you could prompt a recall that would take this product off the market.
It’s crucial to consider prompt legal action after your loved one’s passing
The statute of limitations isn’t the only time-sensitive aspect of your wrongful death case. For instance:
Some evidence won’t remain available with time
You want as much evidence as possible to support your right to damages. A lawyer can seek and preserve evidence, such as:
- Traffic camera footage. A traffic camera could have captured your loved one’s fatal collision. However, this data usually erases within a few months. By delaying legal aid, you risk losing out on this vital piece of information.
- Hazardous conditions. If your loved one slipped, tripped, or fell on another party’s property, photos of the hazardous condition could aid your case. However, after learning about your legal intentions, the property owner might quickly try to fix it. While this does not absolve them of liability, such documentation could make or break your case.
- Witness testimony. Immediately following an accident, witnesses might remember everything in perfect detail. After a few months, however, some details could get lost to time. Interviewing witnesses as soon as possible is critically important. Even the smallest detail could prove fault.
Insurance companies have their own filing deadlines
The liable insurance claim will have its own filing deadlines for your case. You could have a few months to notify them of your loved one’s passing. While missing this deadline will not bar you from litigation, it could complicate the claims process. The insurer might deny your claim altogether, arguing that you did not file it on time.
With time, it can be harder to calculate damages
Over time, the lines could blur between the damages associated with your loved one’s passing and those that are not. Your lawyer will seek to calculate the accurate value of your case. By connecting with them immediately after your loved one’s wrongful death, the lawyer can assess the cost of your wrongful death-related losses and argue for fair compensation.
How can a law firm file your case within the appropriate statute of limitations?
Right now, you should be focusing on grieving and celebrating your loved one’s life––not burdening yourself with the legal process. A lawyer can manage your wrongful death lawsuit while you focus on rebuilding your life.
Here is how they can help you:
They can evaluate your case’s deadlines
One of the first things your lawyer will do is review your case’s applicable deadlines. This lets them know how long they have to file your potential lawsuit.
To determine the applicable statute of limitations, your lawyer will evaluate:
- The cause of your loved one’s passing
- The at-fault and liable parties
- Your relationship to your loved one
- Where your loved one passed away
Once they determine these factors, they can explain how long you have to file.
Your attorney can manage your case’s filing paperwork
There’s a lot of bureaucracy that goes into filing a lawsuit. Your lawyer can fill out all necessary forms and documents to advance the legal proceedings. A small mistake could prevent the courts from accepting your case. On a tight deadline, this could mean adverse results for your lawsuit.
For instance, if you submitted a document to the wrong officials, it could take weeks for them to notify you of the error––if they notify you at all. This could lengthen the time it takes to process paperwork, and if it’s not processed within your deadline, you could lose the right to seek damages.
A lawyer can determine the at-fault party
Some government entities have something called “sovereign immunity.” Here, some protections prevent injured claimants from suing the government. Other guidelines limit the time in which you have to act, so you could have less than the standard timeframe to file.
We can determine the fault party and determine whether any limitations shorten your filing period.
We can strategize based on your circumstances
We can file an injury claim or lawsuit if you lost a loved one to a(n):
- Collision involving a car, pedestrian, bicycle, or boat
- Slip and fall accident
- Dog bite
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Defective product
- Trampoline accident
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Premises liability incident
In most injury cases, your lawyer must prove that because another party acted negligently, they caused your loved one’s accident, injuries, and passing. As noted earlier, however, this is not the case for product liability incidents.
Other laws that could affect your wrongful death case
The statute of limitations isn’t the only law that pertains to your case. For instance:
Only some parties can file wrongful death lawsuits
We’ve talked a lot about how long you have to file your case but not who can file the lawsuit. In some states, for example, only a personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file the lawsuit. The representative is not automatically a family member. They’re either named in the will or appointed by the court.
Other states are different. Qualifying parties are determined into “classes” that have priority over others.
- Class one includes the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or parents.
- Class two includes the decedent’s siblings can file.
- Class three is when no class one or class two litigants exist. Here, the court may appoint someone to serve as the decedent’s personal representative.
You can still seek damages if your loved one caused their own passing
You are not necessarily barred from recovery because your loved one was negligent. However, their percentage of fault could take away from your final financial award.
It should be clear from all the information we’ve presented that building a case and filing a wrongful death lawsuit after your loved one’s passing is difficult. Depending on a lawyer to handle the legal aspects of your case allows you to grieve and gives you the peace of mind of knowing someone is taking care of the rest.
Connect with a lawyer to file a wrongful death case
If you lost a loved one, a St. Louis wrongful death lawyer will help you file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit within the appropriate deadline so you can seek compensation for your damages.
The Dixon Injury Firm
9666 Olive Blvd #202,
St. Louis, MO 63132