There are strict time limits imposed on how long surviving family members have to pursue a wrongful death claim in Washington state. This time limit is called the Statute of Limitations.
In Washington, the Statute of Limitations for wrongful death claims is typically three (3) years from the date of the incident that caused the victim's death. This means that the case must either be settled or filed in court within this time, or the claim is no longer valid.
Not only is it a dangerous practice to wait until the end of the three-year period before filing suit or settling the claim, but most wrongful death claims should be investigated immediately following the person’s death. Given the potential size and complexity of wrongful death cases, the insurance company will almost always mount an immediate investigation and aggressive defense of the claim.
Being Prepared For The Statute Of Limitations
It is imperative that anyone pursuing a wrongful death claim has a clear understanding of the law, court rules, and the process for filing a lawsuit. Surviving loved ones will also want to promptly gather evidence to make sure that this information is preserved so that it may be used to support the claim.
Examples of important pieces of evidence include gathering witness statements, performing an accident reconstruction, obtaining a private autopsy, and hiring relevant experts, if necessary. In many wrongful death cases, a prompt investigation can dramatically increase the likelihood of a successful outcome in a wrongful death case.
Although most wrongful death claims must be filed in court within three (3) years of the date of death, this time period may be shorter in certain situations.
For example, if the death was caused by negligence that pre-dated the person’s death (for example, the person was injured and then survived for a period of time before dying) then a case may need to be filed within three (3) years from the date that the negligence was committed. Again, you should immediately consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to learn whether a shorter time limit may apply to the case.