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What is the statute of limitation for wrongful death lawsuits?

A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by the deceased's relatives and dependents against the party responsible for the victim's death. The reasons for the lawsuit may include medical negligence, a car accident or even criminal wrongdoing. A wrongful death lawsuit, being civil in nature, has a lesser burden of proof than a case tried in criminal court. Like most other types of civil lawsuits, wrongful death cases are also subject to a statute of limitations, or time limit, for filing.

One of the prevailing rules for determining the statute of limitations is the "discovery rule." Under this rule, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit begins to run from the date when the plaintiff first discovers the cause of the victim's death. This discovery may have been made after due diligence on the claimant's part. However, there may be an exception made if doing so adversely affects the statute of limitations before discovering the cause of death.

In cases where the wrongful death lawsuit derives from a personal injury case, the lawsuit may not be found to be time restricted if the surviving family members did not have any right for a claim at the time of the incident. Special time limits may also apply in product liability lawsuits. If the product that caused the victim's death was very old, a special statute of limitations known as a "statute of repose" may be applicable. Under this rule, once a product has reached a certain age, a lawsuit cannot be filed even if the product causes injury to a victim.

A victim's family may still have a legal recourse even if the statute of limitations has expired. A legal professional may be able to help the plaintiff delay the expiration of the limitations period. Additionally, either the court or the opposing party can choose to waive the statute of limitations period.

Source:, "Wrongful Death Claims: Time Limits and the "Discovery" Rule," accessed on Sept. 18, 2014

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