The wrongful death of a loved one comes with many losses and struggles, including grief over the individual’s loss and the financial costs extending from that loss. If someone’s negligence or malicious act resulted in the person’s death, the victim’s family may recover compensation for the losses it endured.
Like other types of negligence cases, wrongful death claims and lawsuits must meet specific statutes of limitations. Knowing more about how statutes of limitations work for these cases can ensure that a victim’s loved ones build a case before time expires and they can no longer recover compensation. For specific advice regarding your case and help with the process, contact an experienced Augusta wrongful death attorney right away.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
Every case has a set statute of limitations, which is a specific window of time to file a claim or a lawsuit against individuals or entities for damage. The statute of limitations varies from state to state and from case to case with some cases having longer statutes of limitations than others. Statutes of limitations apply to both civil and criminal cases.
Once the statute of limitations passes, people involved in a case can no longer seek monetary compensation from liable parties. If, for example, the statute of limitations for a car accident is two years, car accident victims will no longer be able to file a lawsuit against liable drivers once two years has passed following the accident.
However, the statute of limitations may contain exceptions. For example, in some states, a minor injured during an accident may file a claim or lawsuit once they come of age. Some cases may not initiate the statute of limitations until the victim discovers their injuries or other damages.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Suit?
In wrongful death cases, the decedent’s family members can file a claim or lawsuit against the parties responsible for a number of years after the date of death. Like all other case types, the statute of limitations for wrongful death suits varies in each state. You must file before the time limit passes to be able to bring your case to civil court.
You can visit your state’s legislative website to see the statute of limitations for wrongful death in your state. However, it is wise to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can advise on the time you have left to file and help you file on time before surpassing the statute of limitations.
What Are Exceptions to the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?
States and their respective courts take the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases and others seriously, but some exceptions may apply depending on the specific circumstances involved.
Some exceptions to the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases may include:
Some individuals’ deaths may result from a government entity’s negligence, which could extend the statute of limitations. The reason for this extension is to enable plaintiffs to complete certain notice requirements that are unique to cases involving government agencies and organizations. Once you’ve met the notice requirements, you may file a lawsuit against the liable entity before the extended deadline.
In some wrongful death cases, negligent medical staff, hospitals, or others might cause a patient’s death through medical malpractice. It’s often difficult to determine whether medical malpractice resulted in a person’s death, and family members may not make the connection until long after the death. In these instances, families may be able to start a wrongful death case upon discovering that medical malpractice caused their loved one’s death, with the statute of limitations beginning on the date of discovery. Depending on the state and circumstances, courts may also allow additional time for plaintiffs to investigate the alleged malpractice before filing a lawsuit.
Murder and Homicide
Families of homicide or murder victims may also be able to wait longer before filing a wrongful death suit. Law enforcement may need to identify and detain suspects in these cases, which can take years after the crime. Once law enforcement officials apprehend the suspect, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit will begin.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Some but not all cases involving a person’s death may constitute wrongful death. Generally, the law defines wrongful death as a civil cause of action that a victim’s family or other dependents bring against people or entities responsible for a person’s death, either through negligence or other wrongdoing.
It’s also possible for families of decedents to file wrongful death lawsuits against individuals facing criminal charges of homicide, manslaughter, or other similar charges in a criminal suit.
Even if the court in the criminal lawsuit finds the defendant not guilty, the decedent’s loved ones may still be able to file a civil suit in which the court may find the defendant liable for wrongful death. Since plaintiffs must meet a lower standard of proof in a civil case than a prosecutor in a criminal case, one court may find a defendant not guilty of a crime but another may hold them liable for a civil wrongdoing.
If you want to file a wrongful death suit, you must prove:
- That the defendant engaged in conduct constituting negligence, a wrongful act, breach of warranty or contract, or default
- That this conduct led to the victim’s death
- That the decedent would have been eligible to recover damages in a negligence lawsuit if they had survived the incident
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Several types of wrongful death cases may involve negligence or other wrongdoing that leads to a person’s death. Some of the most common types of cases include:
Most wrongful death cases result from car accidents. Thousands of people die every year in car accidents, often because of the negligence of drivers and others on the road. Many accidents result from other driver’s behavior, such as speeding and distracted driving. The families of car accident victims may be able to file wrongful death suits in these cases if they can prove negligence.
While we trust doctors and other medical professionals to provide reliable care, they may engage in negligent behaviors that cause serious harm to patients or even death. Often, causes of wrongful death involving malpractice include surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose certain conditions.
Many types of accidents can occur in the workplace that can cause an employee’s death. Wrongful deaths involving employees could even occur outside of the workplace and off the clock, depending on the situation. For instance, a manual laborer may need to work a dangerously long shift, leading the employee to fall asleep at the wheel and get into a fatal car accident while driving home at the end of the shift.
Manufacturers or others could be liable for defective products if these products cause a person’s death when people use them as intended. Defective designs or construction could render a product unsafe to use, potentially causing a fatality in some instances, which is why all products must undergo thorough testing.
These are some of the many wrongful death cases that decedents’ families may file against liable parties. Other incidents could include pedestrian, aviation, and semi-truck accidents that lead to one or more victims’ deaths.
Types of Recoverable Compensation for Wrongful Death
If someone is liable for a person’s wrongful death, victims’ families and dependents may be able to recover financial compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. These damages might include a combination of economic and non-economic damages, with some cases also involving punitive damages. Economic and non-economic damages are designed to make a victim or victim’s family whole again following their losses. Punitive damages punish the wrongdoer if they act with gross negligence or malicious intent.
The following are some specifics about these types of damages in wrongful death cases:
These damages refer to the direct financial losses sustained as the result of a person’s death and, in some cases, other damages preceding the person’s death. These damages are easier to calculate than non-economic ones, as they come with specific costs you can identify and add up.
Some examples of economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits include:
- Medical costs for treating injuries or illnesses leading up to the individual’s death
- Loss of income, including future income, resulting from the person’s death
- Other related expenses resulting from the death, including burial and funeral costs
These damages account for the personal experience that victims’ loved ones have because of a person’s wrongful death. While it’s often more challenging to calculate non-economic damages than economic damages, it’s possible to identify and quantify these to contribute toward a settlement.
The following are some specific examples of non-economic damages that could contribute to a settlement in a wrongful death suit:
- Physical pain and emotional anguish that the victim experienced before their death
- Loss of emotional support or consortium (relationship) because of the person’s death
- Loss of support, such as guidance, for surviving children
In addition, some states may enable victims’ loved ones to recover compensation for their pain and suffering following a person’s death, including depression and anxiety resulting from the person’s death.
Wrongful death victims’ loved ones may recover punitive damages in rare instances. Only the court can award these damages and tends to do so if a defendant exhibited grossly negligent or malicious behavior leading to the victim’s death.
Steps to Take to Increase Your Chances of Succeeding With a Wrongful Death Case
If you want to start a wrongful death lawsuit following the tragic death of a loved one, there are some steps you can take to begin the process and maximize your chances of success with your case. These steps include the following:
Gather as Much Evidence as Possible
To prove negligence in a wrongful death case, you must collect as much evidence as possible to build a solid case against liable parties.
There are many types of evidence you may collect and present in these cases, such as:
- Medical records and bills for treatment before the person’s death
- Police reports generated following an accident or another incident
- Autopsy results, which are essential for helping prove medical malpractice in many cases
- Photographic or video evidence of negligence, such as CCTV footage in the location where the incident occurred
- Witness statements
- Financial records and tax returns
Speak With a Wrongful Death Lawyer
To find out if you have a valid wrongful death case and to begin filing before the statute of limitations runs out, take any evidence you have and bring it to an experienced wrongful death lawyer for a free consultation. An experienced attorney will be able to meet with you to review the facts of your case and determine the options available to you. This attorney may then be able to provide representation and begin seeking compensation from liable parties responsible for your loved one’s death.
When Should I Reach Out to an Attorney?
If you believe you have a wrongful death case against negligent people or entities responsible for someone’s death, you may recover total compensation through a lawsuit. The sooner you speak with a an attorney to discuss a potential case and determine your options, the better your case will go. Call a wrongful death lawyer at The Hawk Firm today.