Losing a loved one due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another person can be a devastating experience; it’s known as wrongful death. If you find yourself in this situation, you may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and seek compensation for your losses. 

However, navigating the legal process can be complex, particularly concerning the statute of limitations for filing a claim. In this blog, we will explore the process of filing a wrongful death claim so you can better protect your legal rights and seek the justice you and your loved one deserve.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations refers to how long you have to file a lawsuit or legal claim. It’s a specific time period that the law prescribes for you to respond to a wrongful death as a plaintiff against a defendant in a civil lawsuit. There are both federal and state-level statute of limitation laws. 

Why Do Statutes of Limitations Exist?

There are two reasons for a statute of limitations: to ensure disputes are promptly resolved and to keep parties from bringing stale claims. The time limit varies based on the type of claim and the jurisdiction where the case is being heard. 

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the statute of limitations applies to the time period a family member has to file a legal claim against the party responsible for the death. While the time limit varies by state, it’s typically measured from the date of death or when the cause of death was discovered, which could be years afterward. 

If you don’t file the lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you could lose the right to pursue legal action against the responsible party, but there are exceptions like new evidence or finding out that a minor was involved.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

State law determines who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Generally, immediate family members, including spouses, children, or parents, can file the claim. Some states also allow grandparents, siblings, and other relatives to file. 

In some cases, the personal representative may be authorized to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the beneficiaries. A personal representative is a person appointed by the court as the legal representative of the deceased person’s estate. 

Because of how important a personal representative’s role is, choosing someone trustworthy and experienced enough to handle the position is important. 

Keep in mind that, while the personal representative may file the claim, they will not receive compensation from the wrongful death lawsuit. That will all be divided among the closest living relatives of the deceased.

Steps to File a Wrongful Death Claim

There are seven primary steps to filing a wrongful death claim. 

  1. Hire an experienced attorney who specializes in wrongful death cases.
  2. The attorney will review the case details and determine if a valid legal claim exists.
  3. Identify the responsible parties, and gather evidence against them to support the claim. This can include interviewing witnesses, reviewing medical records, and consulting experts.
  4. Your attorney will draft and file a complaint with the court, outlining the claims being made and the damages being sought. 
  5. The defendant then has time to respond to the complaint.
  6. The discovery process will begin, including exchanging information and documents, conducting depositions, and other pre-trial procedures.
  7. If the case isn’t settled through negotiations, it will proceed to trial, where the attorney will present evidence and arguments to persuade the judge or jury to award damages to the deceased’s beneficiaries. 

We recommend consulting a lawyer if you have any questions regarding these processes.

Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death lawsuits can include medical malpractice, motor vehicle accidents, workplace accidents, and product liability, to name a few. Here are a few examples:

  • A medical malpractice case can turn into a wrongful death lawsuit if the patient died as a result of the malpractice. 
  • In a motor vehicle accident, a wrongful death claim could be filed if one driver’s negligence ultimately caused the other driver’s death. 
  • In the workplace, a wrongful death lawsuit could be filed if an employee wasn’t adequately trained, supervised, or provided with a safe work environment, and that failure resulted in a deadly accident. 
  • A product liability case could be filed if a defective product caused the death of a consumer. 

Where Can a Wrongful Death Claim Be Filed?

Several factors determine where a wrongful death claim may be filed:

  • Where the wrongful death occurred.
  • Where the involved parties are located.
  • The jurisdictional laws that govern the case.

Generally speaking, the lawsuit may be filed where the deceased person lived at the time of their death or where the alleged wrongful act occurred. 

Each state may have different laws governing wrongful death claims, and the legal process and potential damages may vary depending on the jurisdiction. An experienced attorney can help determine the appropriate jurisdiction for the case and ensure that the lawsuit is filed promptly and effectively.

What Happens if You Don’t File in Time

If you don’t file your wrongful death claim within the applicable statute of limitations, you may lose your right to recover damages for losing your loved one. 

In most states, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two to three years from the date of the death, but this can vary.

If you miss the deadline to file your claim, the court may dismiss your case, and you will not be able to pursue compensation for your losses. This can be a devastating outcome, mainly if you have already incurred significant expenses due to the death, such as medical bills or funeral costs.

Flickinger Boulton Gooch & Robson Can Help

Filing a wrongful death claim can be complicated, but it is important. Working with an experienced attorney allows you to navigate the legal process and seek the compensation you deserve. 

If you need legal assistance for a wrongful death claim, don’t hesitate to contact the team at Flickinger Boulton Gooch & Robson. We offer a free case evaluation to help you understand your legal options and determine the best course of action for your situation. Call us at 801.500.4000 or visit our website to learn more.