What is the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California?
Wrongful death due to negligence may occur for a variety of reasons. However, the wrongful death statute of limitations in California is the same regardless.
Coping with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult processes that we can go through.
This grief process is more difficult when the death is due to negligence – or worse – on the part of another person or entity.
In recognition of this, our nation has developed the legal concept of “wrongful death.” This can occur from car accidents, malpractice, or other serious injury.
In a wrongful death situation, those who are most affected by the loss can seek to obtain compensation from the parties who played a role in the circumstances which contributed.
- This is the most popular type of compensation. The grieving party seeks to prevent undue hardship by replacing the income or wages that the deceased family member was responsible for providing. In addition, grieving party may seek reimbursement of medical or funeral expenses as well.
- Emotional and Cognitive Distress:
- In less tangible cases, the grieving family can attempt to sue for distress. They may do this even in an attempt to force the responsible party to change business conduct. However, in all cases, the relief is through monetary compensation.
What Are Statutes of Limitations?
Because of the way that our government is designed, each state has the ability to decide, independently, on the regulations and timelines that are available to those seeking wrongful death judgments.
These regulations are statutes.
Timeline established is the limitation on how long one has to file the claim.
The combination of these concepts gives us the term, “statute of limitations,” which is the maximum amount of time available for a person to file a claim.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in California: The Guidelines
The state of California follows the middle road in regard to the time allowed for filing a wrongful death claim.
As of 2003, this general time frame gives the seeking party only two years to establish wrongdoing on behalf of the party being sued.
This two-year limit assumes that survivors will have enough time to determine that the offending party is at fault for the death of the loved one, and to gather sufficient evidence of this fact.
In most cases, if more than two years have passed between the death and the filing, the possibility of obtaining compensation is lost.
The Discovery Rule
There is a caveat to this wrongful death statute of limitations timeline, however.
If the cause of trauma is able to be determined before the actual event of death takes place, the clock starts ticking.
- An example of this would be a car accident occurring as a result of faulty manufacturing. If our loved one were to end up being hospitalized for a long period, only to pass away later, the two-year timeline would start at the time of the accident, and not at the time of death.
This distinction is known as the Discovery Rule, and refers to the discovery of fault, rather than the event of death. What this means is that the wrongful death statute of limitations for a claim could expire, even before victim has succumbed to the injuries.
The Discovery Rule assumes that a reasonable, rational, person would have the ability to immediately suspect – as opposed to prove – that the accused party bears the responsibility for the injury or death.
Once this suspicion is activated, the remaining two years is considered sufficient time to investigate and gather the evidence needed for litigation.
In some instances, the suspicion surrounding the cause of injury is acknowledged as arising much later, and the process of a delayed discovery wrongful death statute of limitations is able to be implemented.
Special Considerations for California Wrongful Death Cases
Specific attention has been given to the statute of limitations for wrongful death which involve the medical community.
In the case that the negligence was not able to be discovered for a period of time, the law typically allows for no more than three years time between the actual event, and the filing.
There are exceptions for very specific cases, such as in purposeful fraud or concealment, or in the discovery of a foreign object placed within the body during surgery.
Considerations for Governmental Agencies
In accusations against negligence on behalf of governmental entities, cases must be brought before the courts within a very short time period.
This wrongful death statute of limitations often ends within only six months of the traumatizing event.
There is a very real possibility of the government denying such an accusation, in which case one needs to be prepared to refile the lawsuit, immediately, upon rejection.
Wrongful death claims are governed by the California Tort Claims Act, which includes specifications about what – and who – can be considered liable.
Considerations for Minors
Yet another stipulation to the law exists for minors with deceased, or injured, family members.
If the person affected is not yet of legal age at the time of the event, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death suit does not start until the party has reached adulthood.
This delay in implementation is known as “tolling.” In the case of a minor hoping to seek eventual justice for a wrongdoing, the tolling process works as an ally.
Navigating the Wrongful Death Claim Process
During a time period which is already characterized by great stress, considerations of adding the process of litigation can become overwhelming.
In light of the stringent, and detailed, regulations surrounding the filing of a wrongful death claim, it is often advised that offended parties seek the knowledge of California wrongful death lawyers who are familiar with the process.
Adding the element of skilled legal support can provide the best chance of success during these trying situations.
It is prudent to seek counsel in the event of any suspicion regarding the fault of another party in the injury or death that has occurred.
As previously noted, the law expects that suspicions will be generated by a reasonable person under applicable conditions, and the countdown for litigation begins immediately upon this potential realization.
Your law firm will be able to navigate the wrongful death statute of limitations, and provide insight into the likelihood that your suspicions will be affirmed in the courts, for the best viable and successful proof of fault available.