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Wrongful death claims and the statute of limitations

Losing a loved one is difficult regardless of the circumstances. The emotional pain alone can be more than enough with which to cope, but many surviving family members struggle to make ends meet in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. The medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost wages can take a toll, leaving families financially struggling. Making matters worse, many of these families don't know the true circumstances that led to their loved one's death.

This can be critical when a family learns of acts or omissions that may qualify as negligence, and that the negligence led to their loved one's death. Why? Because the law has what are known as statutes of limitation. These laws set a time frame during which a lawsuit must be brought, lest it be barred. This can spell trouble when a family member discovers near the end of the time period, or after, that negligence caused their loved one's death.

Fortunately, the law makes exceptions in some cases when the exact cause of death isn't discovered until later. For example, the statute of limitations may not start to run until an individual capable of bringing suit knows or reasonably should have known of the cause of death. This, in essence, delays the start of the statutory time period, allowing surviving family members to bring wrongful death lawsuits when they otherwise would have been disallowed from doing so.

Succeeding on a wrongful death claim can be challenging for many reasons. In addition to facing statute of limitation issues, surviving family members may have evidentiary problems to address, creative defenses to maneuver around, and statutory and case law that, depending on how argued, could affect the outcome of the case. Therefore, those who are thinking about bringing a wrongful death claim may want to consider discussing the matter with an attorney of their choosing.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Claims: Time Limits and the 'Discovery' Rule," accessed on May 7, 2017

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