Statutes of Limitations and the Discovery Rule
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one due to wrongful death, the last thing you may want to think about is how your legal rights are affected. The law surrounding wrongful death, however, allows legal action to be taken only for a limited period of time. When this period has elapsed, you will no longer have the option of filing a lawsuit. An attorney can answer your questions about how much time you have to take action.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that restricts the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. It helps to ensure that the legal process moves forward and that evidence is still available and fresh in the minds of witnesses. When the statute of limitations has run, there is no longer an entitlement to take legal action on a matter. This gives a serious responsibility to people who may wish to file a lawsuit.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
The discovery rule can affect when the statute of limitations begins to run. In some cases, an injury that caused a wrongful death was not apparent when it first occurred; this is usually due to the nature of the injury itself. The statute of limitations will begin, then, at the time the injury is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.
Consider a statute of limitations that is, for instance, two years long. Normally, the clock would start ticking as soon as the injury occurred. But if the injury is reasonably discovered one year after it occurs, the two-year period begins on the day of discovery.
Not every state applies the discovery rule in the same way. How it is used also depends on the injury and other circumstances.
How Do the Statute of Limitations and the Discovery Rule Affect Wrongful Death Actions?
For most wrongful death cases, a state’s wrongful death statute sets out a simple time limit for taking legal action. The matter is more complicated, however, when it comes to injuries that call the discovery rule into play.
Sometimes, when a loved one suffers an injury, the injury may not become known for months or years after it occurs — perhaps not until it causes death. Other times, the cause of a wrongful death itself is not reasonably discovered until months or years later.
If an injury directly contributed to a death, the statute of limitations may begin at the time of injury or at the time of reasonable discovery. This could mean that the statute of limitations starts to run — and may even run out — before the death. This can occur, in particular, in products liability cases involving injuries caused by defective or dangerous products.
Consult an Attorney
Although the statute of limitations and the discovery rule may appear to complicate the legal process, the important thing to keep in mind is that there are time limits on when you may take legal action. Contact an attorney, who can tell you when the statute of limitations expires and what your rights are right now.