Is There A Statute Of Limitations on A Wrongful Death Suit?
Losing a loved one is often both devastating and life-changing. It’s understandable when family members are consumed by grief and have difficulty performing routine tasks.
Although it’s common for family members to deal with unresolved grief for a year or more after losing a loved one, you have a limited amount of time to initiate a wrongful death case.
Learning about the wrongful death statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation can help you make timely legal decisions and ensure your case is heard.
Contact our wrongful death attorneys today to get the legal counsel you need after a wrongful death.
What is a statute of limitations?
The statute of limitations is a predetermined time limit for initiating legal action. The state’s statute of limitations applies to criminal and civil legal cases. Consequently, unless the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s wrongful death justify an exception to the statute of limitations, you must file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
What is the statute of limitations for wrongful death?
The state where the death occurred determines the amount of time someone has to file a lawsuit after a wrongful death. States such as Colorado, New York, and Texas allow victims to file a wrongful death claim within two years of the victim’s death. However, some states set the statute of limitations at one year, while others give family members three years from the date of death. View wrongful death statute of limitations laws in your state to learn how much time you have to file a wrongful death case.
The reasoning behind statutes of limitations in wrongful death claims
The Constitution protects a defendant’s “right to a speedy trial.” This is one of the reasons states establish statutes of limitations. Other reasons include the following:
- Court backlog – Courts already deal with backlogs delaying cases. Without the statutes of limitations, backlogs could become unmanageable.
- Ensure a fair trial – Evidence may be lost or damaged over time, preventing the prosecution and defense from presenting crucial evidence at trial.
- Unfair prosecution – Individuals could face lawsuits decades after the incident without a statute of limitations.
- Witness recall – Witnesses may move or die, making presenting some witness testimony at trial impossible. People’s memories also fade, making it hard for some witnesses to give accurate testimony.
Exceptions to statute of limitations on a wrongful death suit
Although states establish wrongful death statutes of limitations for many valid reasons, there are statute of limitations exceptions. When these exceptions apply, the plaintiffs have extra time to initiate wrongful death action against the parties responsible for their loved one’s wrongful death. Statute of limitations exceptions include the following:
- Date of discovery – In some cases, it appears the deceased person wasn’t the victim of a wrongful death, but evidence emerges later that determines they died a wrongful death. In those cases, the time limit for the statute of limitations doesn’t begin on the date of death. Instead, it begins on the date of discovery.
- Deliberate violence – Some states increase the time limit for wrongful death cases if the person dies from a deliberate act of violence.
- Fraud – The statute of limitations’ clock may stop if the party responsible for the death used fraud to prevent the victim’s family members from realizing they had grounds to pursue a wrongful death case, giving them extra time to take legal action.
- Hit-and-run accident – Identifying the party responsible for a death stemming from a hit-and-run accident may take longer. Consequently, the state of Colorado doubles the wrongful death statute of limitations for hit-and-run accidents to four years.
- Medical malpractice – The statute of limitations may not apply to cases involving medical malpractice in some situations, such as when the medical professionals take steps to conceal their wrongful actions or the malpractice involves leaving items inside a person’s body that eventually caused their death.
- Plaintiff is a minor – When the family member eligible to pursue a wrongful death case is a minor, the time limit for filing a lawsuit begins counting down when they become an adult.
What qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit within the statute of limitations?
Unless the victim’s death involved noted exceptions, the statute of limitations applies to most wrongful death cases, including wrongful deaths stemming from the following:
- Bicycle accidents
- Criminal actions
- Defective products
- Medical malpractice
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Workplace accidents
Who can bring forward a wrongful death claim?
In addition to establishing the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, each state determines who’s eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, Colorado allows a decedent’s spouse and children to take legal action. However, the decedent’s parents may pursue a wrongful death suit in some cases, including the following:
- The decedent had no spouse or children
- The decedent’s spouse also died in the incident, and they had no children
- The decedent’s spouse and children also died in the incident
A wrongful death claim may take time
Lawsuits are time-consuming, and several factors can increase the time required to resolve your wrongful death claim. These factors include the following:
- Defendant pleads innocent – It takes time to gather the evidence needed and prove the defendant’s guilt if they don’t accept responsibility.
- Insurance companies – Insurance companies often fight lawsuits to try to minimize payouts.
- Plaintiff’s circumstances – You might not be able to take immediate legal action if you were injured in the accident that claimed the life of your spouse or parent.
- Plaintiff is the decedent’s child – The decedent’s children must wait one year to file a lawsuit in Colorado.
It can also be confusing to navigate the legal system. That’s why hiring a wrongful death attorney when initiating a wrongful death lawsuit is a good idea. Experienced wrongful death attorneys know how to prepare the legal paperwork and are familiar with case law they can use to support your claim. Although hiring an attorney will expedite the process, it will still take time for your attorney to investigate your case and gather the evidence needed to prove wrongful death.
Our wrongful death lawyers can help you
At Bachus & Schanker, our legal team is ready to answer your questions. We’ll explain the types of compensation you can seek, file your case before the statute of limitations expires, and gather the evidence needed to prove your case. We understand coping with a wrongful death can be financially challenging. We’ll fight for you to receive the maximum compensation available, and you won’t receive a bill for legal services until we win your case.
Schedule your free consultation today with our experienced, professional wrongful death attorneys.
Corral, A. et al. (2022). Growing backlog of court cases delays justice for crime victims and the accused.
Cox, J. (2022). How Long Does Grief Last?
Goguen, D. (2023). Colorado Medical Malpractice Laws.
Get Your Free Case Evaluation