Wrongful Death:

Statute of Limitations and the Discovery Rule

Each state has established time limits within which civil wrongful death lawsuits must be filed. These are called the “statute of limitations,” and with regard to Wrongful Death cases, the limits vary from state to state. Typically, the “statute of limitations” does not extend beyond three years of the victims death. Government agencies are often protected by even shorter time limits. In almost all cases, after the “statute of limitations” has expired, the wrongful death lawsuit no longer has merit and will not be tried.

The death of the victim marks the start of the time limit, however, there are exceptions. Generally, states allow the “statute of limitations” to be extended until the true cause of death is discovered (or should have been discovered, with reasonable care). For example, a wrongful death may be originally diagnosed as heart failure, and six months later it is established that the actual cause was physician negligence. In this case, the time limit begins not at the time of death, but at the time the cause of death is determined.

The “Discovery Rule,” is an exception to the standard “statute of limitations” that can enable the time limit to commence before the death of the victim. If the victim was aware or reasonably should have been aware of the cause of his or her injury or illness before death, the time limit begins at that time and not at the time of death.

There are certain other occasions that may invalidate a Wrongful Death claim, particularly those involving prior personal injury and product liability. If you think you have a Wrongful Death lawsuit, you should discuss the matter with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can evaluate the merit of your case and explain your options.

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