The Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations: How Can It Influence Your Claim?Wrongful Death
After the loss of a loved one, your life may feel upside down. Everything seems out of sorts. You have a lot of challenges to deal with—not just planning a funeral and mourning for the loss of a loved one, but rebuilding your life around that absence. Even if you want to hold the liable party responsible for the loss of your loved one, you may not have time to think about a wrongful death claim for a while. While mourning, that claim may take a back seat to your other needs.
As you start to process that grief, however, you may begin to wonder about your family’s right to file a wrongful death claim and how that claim may impact your family. Your financial losses may grow clearer, and you may wonder how you can recover some of the funds lost when your loved one died. A wrongful death claim can help with that process and help set your family up for success. Has the statute of limitations run out on your claim?
What Is the Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Claim?
The statute of limitations represents a specific time frame you have in which to file a wrongful death claim following the loss of a loved one. Each state assigns a specific time to its wrongful death claims. After that time has passed, the courts may refuse to hear your claim, unless an attorney can find an exception to the statute of limitations that will give you more time to file. If the statute of limitations has run out and there are no applicable exceptions, this can prevent you from getting any compensation at all for the loss of a loved one.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
The clock usually starts ticking on the statute of limitations following your loved one’s death. In most states, you will have between two and three years to file a wrongful death claim after the loss of a loved one. In New York, for example, you will typically have two years to file a wrongful death claim. South Carolina, on the other hand, offers the deceased’s family three years to file a wrongful death claim.
However, several exceptions may exist to the wrongful death statute of limitations, which may extend or reduce the time you have to file.
Workers’ Compensation Claims
If you need to file a wrongful death claim resulting from a workplace accident, you may need to pursue that claim within two years, for example, according to South Carolina law.
Claims Involving a Government Entity
If a government entity bears liability for your loved one’s death, you may have a more limited time to file your wrongful death claim. An attorney can help you take a look at how long you have to file a claim and how the government entity’s involvement can impact your right to compensation for the death of a loved one.
When Should I File a Wrongful Death Claim?
You may have the right to file a wrongful death claim if a loved one dies as the result of an act of negligence committed by another entity. In general, you will need to file your wrongful death claim before the statute of limitations runs out, since the courts will usually refuse to hear the claim at all after that time has passed. However, you do not want to allow the clock to run down toward the statute of limitations before filing your claim.
Ideally, you should talk to an attorney as soon as you realize that you may have the right to a wrongful death claim. If your loved one already had a personal injury claim in process before their death, you may need to talk to their existing attorney, who may already have collected evidence related to the claim. If your loved one died immediately after the accident or did not have time to start a personal injury claim before their death, you may need to contact a wrongful death attorney on your own to help address your right to compensation.
Speaking to an attorney soon after your loved one’s death offers several advantages to your claim.
A Wrongful Death Attorney Can Prevent Zealous Insurance Companies from Taking Advantage of You.
A loved one’s death can leave you reeling. You may go through the motions as you try to decide what you need to do next and how to handle the impact of everything you have to take care of. Many insurance companies will try to take advantage of that.
The insurance company that covers the liable party may contact you immediately after your loved one’s death to issue a settlement offer. That settlement offer may sound tempting. At the time of your loved one’s death, you may have no idea what their final medical bills will look like or what your long-term expenses and financial losses will look like. A settlement may sound like a fast way to take care of those final expenses and set your family up for success.
Unfortunately, that settlement may not reflect the compensation you really deserve for the loss of a loved one. The insurance company may issue an offer that minimizes the compensation offered, rather than an offer that reflects the compensation you really deserve. If you accept it, it could limit the funds your family ultimately receives for the loss of a loved one.
An attorney, on the other hand, can go over the compensation you really deserve for those losses and give you a better idea of what it might look like and what you should expect. The attorney can also deal with the insurance company for you, which may prevent you from inadvertently accepting an offer or minimizing that compensation.
An Attorney Can Help You Understand the Claim Process and What it Will Mean for Your Family.
You may have concerns as you manage your wrongful death claim, including how much compensation your family deserves and who in the family has the right to file a wrongful death claim.
In most cases, the deceased’s spouse has the first right to file a wrongful death claim. If the deceased does not have a spouse, the deceased’s children have the right to file a wrongful death claim. If the deceased has neither spouse nor children, the deceased’s parents may have the right to file a wrongful death claim.
Following your loss, multiple family members may have the same right to file a wrongful death claim. For example, divorced parents of a deceased minor child may need to work together to file a claim. Likewise, if your parent dies with no spouse, but you have a sibling or several siblings, each of you may have the same right to a wrongful death claim for the death of your parent. You may need to work together to determine the appropriate distribution of those funds, especially after paying off your loved one’s final expenses.
An attorney can go over your family’s right to compensation, from who has the right to file a personal injury claim to how the compensation offered may impact your family. Keep in mind that each member of the family who has the right to a claim may have the same right to make decisions regarding the claim. Working with an attorney can help you determine how to best manage those challenges.
An Attorney Can Help Investigate the Death of Your Loved One.
Often, the investigation stage of a wrongful death claim takes the longest. Unlike a personal injury claim, you will not have to wait for a long recovery period before you can move forward with your claim. You already clearly know what your loved one’s final medical expenses looked like and what losses your family has faced as a result of those challenges.
The investigation, however, may require some time.
An attorney may need to start by investigating the actual circumstances that led to your loved one’s death, including the events that led up to it and whose negligence caused the accident. Then, the attorney may need to take a look at the entities that caused the accident. For example, if your loved one died because of the actions of a corporate entity, the attorney may need to look into that company.
Consider, for example, a victim who died in a construction site accident. On investigation, it may come out that the construction company frequently cuts corners on safety. Cutting corners ultimately led to your loved one’s death. As a result, the construction company may bear liability for the accident, even if the construction company’s direct actions did not cause the accident.
Sometimes, the investigation may uncover that more than one person shares liability for the loss of your loved one. Identifying all parties that share liability can go a long way toward ensuring that you maximize the compensation you can receive for your loved one’s death.
An Attorney Can Help You Fully Understand the Compensation You Deserve for the Loss of a Loved One.
Do you know how much compensation you can really expect after your loved one dies? An attorney can help break down your right to compensation, including how much compensation you can realistically expect depending on the specific circumstances that surround your loved one’s death.
Your compensation may depend on:
- The liable party. Who caused your loved one’s death, and what insurance policy covers the liable party to help provide compensation for that loss? By working with an attorney, you can get a better idea of the limits of that insurance policy and how it will impact your right to compensation.
- The extent of your loved one’s final medical bills. You can file a wrongful death claim even if your loved one did not die immediately of their injuries. Typically, you can include your loved one’s final medical expenses as part of the claim, which can make it easier for you to pay off those bills.
- Your loved one’s previous income. One vital element of your wrongful death claim includes compensation for the loss of your loved one’s income. In many families, especially those in which you lose the primary breadwinner in a serious accident, the loss of your loved one can lead to immense financial challenges. A wrongful death claim can help restore some of that lost income and prepare you to handle your future expenses.
- The services your loved one provided for the family. Sometimes, you can also include the loss of the services your loved one performed for the family, from childcare to senior care or taking care of the home or yard. Your family may need to pay someone else to take care of those services after the loss of your loved one. An attorney can help you break down how those losses impact your family financially and how to include them as part of a wrongful death claim.
In addition to those elements, you may also receive compensation for the loss of your loved one’s presence in your life and the emotional suffering that loss causes.
An Attorney Can Help Alleviate Stress During an Incredibly Difficult Time.
You already have more than enough stress to deal with in the immediate aftermath of your loved one’s loss. An attorney can help alleviate much of that stress, putting you in a better position to handle the other challenges that you may face as you manage your loved one’s estate and final expenses.
If you lost a loved one in an accident, do not wait to get in touch with a wrongful death attorney. Instead, contact an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your right to compensation after your loss and what the claim process will look like, and to start the ball rolling on your wrongful death claim before the statute of limitations expires.