A wrongful death lawsuit must be settled or filed in court within a certain period of time. This period or deadline is often called the statute of limitations.
Depending on the jurisdiction, the statute of limitations may begin to run on the date of death, upon discovery of the person’s cause of death, or upon discovery of the defendant’s negligent conduct.
The length of the statute of limitations period will vary depending on the laws of the jurisdiction that govern the wrongful death claim. In some states, the statute of limitations may be as short as one year. In other jurisdictions, it may be as long as five years.
This is why it is extremely important to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney in the actual jurisdiction where the case will be filed.
Prolonging Action Can Be Harmful to Your Case
It is a dangerous practice to wait until the statute of limitations period is about to expire before filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If the lawsuit is filed right before the deadline and if the defendant cannot be found, or if the wrong defendant is served, the case could be dismissed and the plaintiff gets nothing.
For this reason, it is very important to hire an attorney well before the statute of limitations expires. Many attorneys will refuse to accept a case when the statute of limitations period is about to expire because there may be insufficient time to investigate the case, file the suit, and locate and personally serve the proper defendant(s).
Another reason not to wait until the statute of limitations is about to expire is that important evidence in the case may be lost or destroyed. Witness memories can fade over time, or important witnesses may move and not be easy to locate.
Generally, the more time that elapses after a wrongful death, the greater the likelihood that important evidence may be lost or destroyed. Simply put, waiting too long to investigate and/or prosecute the claim in court may cause irreparable damage to the case.