Wrongful Death cases, The Statute of Limitations, and The Discovery Rule.
If you have ever lost a loved one due to wrongful death, you may be in no position to think about your legal rights, but the law surrounding wrongful death limits the time legal action can be taken. When this period has passed, you can no longer file a lawsuit to enforce your rights. At Rowley Chapman & Barney, we can answer your questions about how much time you have to take action.
Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time a claimant (known as a plaintiff) has to file a lawsuit. This statute pushes the legal process forward while evidence is still available and fresh in the minds of witnesses. When the statute of limitations expires, any right to take legal action on a matter is gone. So, anyone who may want to file a lawsuit must know their rights and take action.
The Discovery Rule
The discovery rule can affect when the statute of limitations begins to run. In some cases, an injury that caused a wrongful death was not apparent or able to be discovered when it first occurred, often due to the nature of the harm itself. If so, the statute of limitations will begin to run when the harm is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.
For example, a statute of limitations that may be two years long would begin to run once the harm happened. If the harm is reasonably discovered one year after it occurs, however, the two-year period begins on the day of discovery. But taking no action to look for or discover the reason for the harm – sometimes called “sleeping on your rights” – generally does not allow the discovery rule to apply.
Not every state applies the discovery rule in the same way. How it does apply also depends on the harm and other factors.
The Discovery Rule May Affect the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases
For wrongful death cases, a state’s wrongful death statutes give a simple time limit for taking legal action. When the harm involves the discovery rule, the matter is more complicated.
Sometimes when a loved one suffers an injury, the injury or its source may not be known for months or years after it occurs — perhaps not until it causes death. Other times, the cause of a wrongful death is not reasonably discovered until months or years later.
If an injury directly contributed to a death, the statute of limitations may begin at the time of injury or at the time of reasonable discovery. This could mean that the statute of limitations starts to run, and may even expire, before the death. This can happen in particular in products liability cases involving injuries caused by defective or dangerous products.
Speak to a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Although the statute of limitations and the discovery rule complicate the legal process, remember that there are time limits dictating when you must take legal action. Call us at (480) 833-1113. as soon as you can to schedule a consultation with a wrongful death lawyer who can tell you your rights and when the statute of limitations expires.
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