What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Every State?

Memorial flowers after a wrongful death in Colorado.

The statute of limitations is a crucial legal concept that sets a specific time limit for legal actions. This limitation period varies depending on the type of case and jurisdiction. In the case of wrongful death, where someone dies due to another party’s negligence or intentional act, understanding the statute of limitations becomes vital for potential plaintiffs seeking justice. 

However, it is important to note that each state carries its own laws and regulations regarding this matter, making it necessary for individuals to familiarize themselves with their respective state’s statutes to ensure timely filing. As such, consulting with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible is highly recommended. 

Request a free wrongful death case consultation with our Colorado wrongful death attorneys today.

What is the wrongful death statute of limitations by state?

The wrongful death statute of limitations is generally two years from the time of death in most states. However, there can be exceptions in certain cases, allowing the statute of limitations to start later. States with a two-year limitation include:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

The following states have a three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims:

  • Arkansas
  • Washington D.C.
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

In these states, a wrongful death claim statute of limitations is four years:

  • Florida
  • Nebraska
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

In Missouri, people have up to five years to file a wrongful death claim. While in Maine, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is six years. However, in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Knetucky, there is only a one-year statute of limitations to file a wrongful death suit

What is a wrongful death lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action filed by the surviving family members or representatives of someone who has died due to another party’s negligence, intentional wrongdoing, or misconduct. It allows these individuals to seek compensation and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions that caused the death. 

Wrongful death can occur in various circumstances, such as medical malpractice, nursing home abuse, vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, product defects, or criminal acts. Through a wrongful death suit, family members pursue damages for lost financial support, funeral expenses, loss of companionship and emotional support, and other related losses from their loved one’s untimely demise.

What does wrongful death mean?

Wrongful death is when another party’s negligent, reckless, or intentional actions cause an individual’s death. It involves the wrongful act or omission of someone that directly leads to another person’s untimely and preventable death. 

What are negligent, reckless, or intentional actions in wrongful death suits?

Negligent actions are conduct that falls below a reasonable standard of care. It involves a failure to exercise the level of caution and responsibility that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in similar circumstances. Negligence can encompass distracted driving, medical errors, or failure to maintain safe premises.

Reckless actions refer to behavior where an individual consciously disregards the foreseeable risks posed by their actions. It involves acting with indifference or recklessness toward the safety and well-being of others, such as:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Engaging in activities that could harm others without regard for potential consequences

Intentional actions involve deliberate misconduct on the part of the responsible party. This means the individual acted purposefully, knowing their actions could cause harm or even death to another person. Examples include physical assaults, murder, poisoning, or any other intentional act aimed at causing harm.

How do you prove negligence in a wrongful death claim?

Proving negligence in a wrongful death claim generally involves establishing four key elements:

  1. Duty of care: The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased person. This duty refers to the legal obligation to act reasonably and responsibly, considering the circumstances.
  2. Breach of duty: Next, it must be demonstrated the defendant breached their duty of care by acting negligently or failing to fulfill their responsibilities. This can be established by showing that their actions deviated from what a reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances.
  3. Causation: Establishing a causal connection between the defendant’s breach of duty and the resulting death is crucial. In other words, it must be established the defendant’s negligence directly caused or significantly contributed to the victim’s death. This can involve demonstrating how the defendant’s actions or omissions substantially influenced the fatal outcome.
  4. Damages: Lastly, actual damages and losses resulting from the wrongful death must be shown. This can include financial losses such as medical expenses and funeral costs, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, emotional distress endured by surviving family members, and other related damages.

Proving negligence often requires gathering evidence such as:

  • Eyewitness testimonies
  • Expert opinions
  • Photographs
  • Communication records
  • Medical reports
  • Documentation of injuries sustained prior to death

Expert witnesses, such as accident reconstruction experts or medical professionals, may be called upon to provide their specialized knowledge and opinions to support the claim. Consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney is crucial for navigating these complexities and building a strong case.

How long does a wrongful death lawsuit take?

The duration of a wrongful death lawsuit can vary significantly depending on various factors, including the case’s complexity, the parties’ willingness to negotiate or settle, court availability, and jurisdictional rules. The timeline typically involves several stages:

  • Investigation: This step involves gathering evidence, identifying potential witnesses, consulting experts if necessary, and thoroughly assessing all aspects of the wrongful death claim. The length of this stage depends mainly on how quickly evidence can be collected and analyzed.
  • Filing the lawsuit: Once sufficient evidence has been gathered and reviewed by legal counsel representing the plaintiff, they will file a complaint against the responsible party or parties with the appropriate court system. This initiates formal legal proceedings.
  • Pre-trial motions and discovery: During this stage, both parties exchange information and evidence through a process called discovery. This may include depositions, interrogatories, requests for documents or records, and examinations by experts. Pre-trial motions can also be filed to address legal issues before the trial.
  • Settlement negotiations or alternative dispute resolution: Parties involved may opt for settlement negotiations or choose alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or arbitration to reach an agreement before going to trial. The length of this stage depends on the willingness of parties to resolve the case outside of court.
  • Trial preparation: If a settlement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial. This involves further preparation, including selecting a jury, preparing witnesses, and developing a trial strategy. The duration of this stage can vary depending on the complexity of the case and the court’s schedule.
  • Trial: The actual trial involves presenting evidence, examining witnesses, making legal arguments, and allowing both parties to present their case before a judge or jury. Trials can range from days to weeks or even months based on various factors like the number of witnesses, complexity of issues presented, and court availability.
  • Verdict and post-trial proceedings: After considering all evidence presented during the trial, the judge or jury will render a verdict. Suppose there is a favorable outcome for the plaintiff (the surviving family members in wrongful death cases). Then, further post-trial proceedings may ensue in that case, such as determining damages and any potential appeals filed by either party.

Considering these stages, the timeline for a wrongful death suit can typically span from several months to several years. It is essential to understand that each case is unique, and its duration depends on many variables. Speaking to an experienced wrongful death lawyer provides a better understanding of how long your specific case might take based on its circumstances.

How Bachus & Schanker Can Help

A group of four lawyers posing for a photo in Colorado.

If you are seeking assistance with a wrongful death claim in Colorado, Bachus & Schanker are here to help. Our experienced team of attorneys and Elite Litigation Group specializes in handling such cases. We are dedicated to fighting for justice on behalf of the surviving family members. 

We understand the immense emotional and financial toll that comes with the loss of a loved one. As such, our clients have access to a specially assembled group of Victim’s Advocates who work with people during this difficult time and provide valuable support and information. Our compassionate approach prioritizes your needs while allowing us to pursue maximum compensation for your losses.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how Bachus & Schanker can assist you with filing your wrongful death claim. 


CRS 13-21-201. (2023).

CRS 13-21-202. (2023).

CRS 13-80-102. (2023).