Even though your family may not want to deal with the legal process right after your loved one dies because of someone else’s actions, the law does not give you unlimited time to sue.
There is a strict deadline in California called the wrongful death statute of limitations that gives a definitive end date for your legal right to file a lawsuit — a deadline you cannot miss. For legal advice about your wrongful death case, contact the California wrongful death attorneys at the One Law Group.
Different Wrongful Death Statutes of Limitations to Know
There are different deadlines in California based on the type of case you are filing and the defendant you are suing. In the standard wrongful death case, you will have to file a lawsuit two years from the date that your loved one died (or when you knew that their death was wrongful).
There is a different rule in a medical malpractice case. The special situation here is that you do not always know that your loved one’s death was caused by medical malpractice right after it happened. It may take some time for your family to learn that the doctor was negligent, and it resulted in your family member’s passing. Here, your family has one year from the date when you knew that the death was caused by medical malpractice to file a lawsuit.
If your family knew immediately that medical malpractice was to blame, they have one year from their loved one’s death. The result will be a shorter statute of limitations than in most cases.
There may be an even shorter statute of limitations if your claim is against a government entity. There are special rules for suing the government that often make claims more difficult. In nearly all cases, you will need to file your claim against the government agency within six months after your loved one dies.
Missing the Statute of Limitations Will Have Dire Consequences
The statute of limitations is a hard and fast deadline on your ability to file a lawsuit. Your legal rights to compensation only last for a certain period of time. Once that period elapses, your legal rights go away completely.
There are very few reasons to wait that long to file a lawsuit. Usually, the only reason why plaintiffs file right before the statute of limitations expires is that they have unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company.
A court cannot hear your case if the statute of limitations has passed. They do not even have the jurisdiction to entertain your case. The defendant will file a motion to dismiss your case on the basis that the time limit has passed. Even if the defendant does not file the motion for some reason, a court will dismiss your case on its own.
It simply does not have the ability to reach the merits of your case if you have missed the deadline. The result is the same whether you miss the deadline by a day or a year.
The Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Exists to Help Potential Defendants
California law tries to be fair to defendants as well. Just because a defendant may be responsible for your loved one’s death does not mean they do not have rights. Besides the fact that you need to prove your case as a plaintiff, the defendant also has the right not to worry about a lawsuit once a specific time period passes.
Defendants may lose access to evidence that can help them make their case over time. Witnesses may be harder to locate, and their recollections may fade. Based on California law, corporate defendants may only retain records for so long. The law recognizes that it will be unfair to surprise a defendant with a lawsuit many years after the fact.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death
There are some exceptions to the California statute of limitations on wrongful death, but they are very limited. In addition, these exceptions are strictly construed, given the seriousness with which a court views the statute of limitations. You have a high burden of proof to show that one of these exceptions applies.
An exception to the statute of limitations is called tolling. The exception does not mean that the statute of limitations does not apply. It just means that it starts to run at a later point in time.
What follows are some of the reasons why missing the statute of limitations may not mean the end of your case:
- The family member with the wrongful death claim was under 18 years old.
- You did not know that the death was wrongful until after it happened. For example, you may not have learned until years later that your loved one’s cancer was caused by a medication they took.
- The responsible party committed some type of fraud or other action to keep you from learning the cause of your loved one’s death
- The plaintiff in the case was not mentally competent to file a lawsuit at the time.
Call a California Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
The One Law Group will handle your family’s wrongful death case in a compassionate and delicate manner, recognizing the tough time that your family is experiencing. At the same time, we will fight vigorously for your family to get the maximum amount of money they legally deserves.
To learn more about how one of our attorneys can help you, call us today at (844) 626-1529 or send us a message online.
Wrongful Death Case FAQs
What if the trial court dismissed my case for missing the statute of limitations?
You can appeal the ruling if you believe that it is wrong. If you win your appeal, the case will be returned to the trial court.
When should I file a lawsuit?
You should take your case to court once your lawyer can plead facts that, if true, will entitle you to compensation.
When should I call a wrongful death lawyer?
As soon as possible after your loved one has died.