The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims by State

If you’ve recently lost a loved one due to another person’s negligence, you may be struggling with overwhelming emotions. Thinking about taking legal action while you’re grieving may seem impossible. 

While you don’t need to start a legal case immediately, you do need to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations in your state. Knowing the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims by state can help you gather evidence and file a claim on time to seek compensation. 

What Does “Statute of Limitations” Mean for Wrongful Death Claims?

A statute of limitations is the maximum amount of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit after your loved one’s death. Many civil and criminal actions have statutes of limitations in place to protect both parties in a lawsuit.

If you wait too long after your loved one’s death to file a lawsuit, you’ll lose access to important evidence that can further your case. For instance, witnesses may no longer remember the details of the incident, and photos or videos may become lost. 

With the wrongful death statute of limitations, you must file your lawsuit while the evidence is still fresh. The defendant will also have a better chance of preserving their evidence, leading to a fair trial. 

Statutes of Limitations for Wrongful Death by State

The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims varies by state and can range between one and five years. In California, you have two years to file a claim. Review the statutes of limitations by state below:

One year:

  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Tennessee

Two years:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia 
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Three years:

  • Arkansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C.
  • Wisconsin

Four years:

  • Florida
  • Nebraska
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Five years:

  • Missouri

When Does the Clock Start Ticking on the Statute of Limitations? 

Generally, the statute of limitations begins on the date of the decedent’s death. So if your loved one died on January 5, 2023, you would have until January 5, 2025, to file the lawsuit. 

In some cases, the clock may start ticking on the date of “discovery,” which means the day the decedent learned about a terminal illness or experienced a fatal injury. Other times, the statute of limitations may begin after the death, such as when the exact date of death is unknown. 

You only need to file the initial paperwork to begin a lawsuit by the statute of limitations — you don’t need to complete your case within this time frame.

You can consult your wrongful death attorney to determine the day the clock started ticking for your case. 

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations 

If the statute of limitations has already passed and you have not yet filed your wrongful death action, don’t assume your chances of seeking compensation are gone. Your attorney can help you understand whether your case fits any of the exceptions to the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.

Discovery Rule

Your attorney may be able to help you claim the discovery rule. You could show that your family did not learn that your loved one’s death happened due to another person’s negligence until well after their death. 

This exception is relatively common in medical malpractice cases. A family may not suspect that their loved one died from medical malpractice until they review the decedent’s medical records down the line. Still, a judge could argue that the family should have reasonably learned about the medical malpractice sooner. 

Defective Product

If your loved one died from a defective product accident, you may be able to extend the standard statute of limitations for wrongful death claims to up to 10 years. Your attorney can also advise you about this exception. 

Minor Status or Incapacitation

If your parent died when you were younger than 18 and you want to pursue a wrongful death claim, the clock will not start ticking on the statute of limitations until you turn 18. The court will recognize that you were a minor when the decedent passed away and did not have the resources to take legal action. 

Similarly, if a medical professional deemed you mentally incapacitated at the time of the accident, you may also be able to extend the statute of limitations until your mental status improves. This exception is common in car accident cases in which one party passed away and the other experienced significant injuries. The surviving party may not have the mental capacity to file a claim until months or even years down the line. 

When Is the Statute of Limitations Shorter? 

If you are suing a city or state government as part of your wrongful death claim, your statute of limitations may be shorter than the typical statute in your state. In many cases, you only have 45 days to file a personal injury claim against a public entity. If you are suing a government employee, you may only have six months to file your claim.

Working with an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you stay aware of exceptions to the statute of limitations that could impact your case. Your attorney can ensure that you meet all filing deadlines to keep your case on track and improve your chances of securing compensation.

Are You Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim in California? Contact Khalil Law Group

Hesitating to pursue legal action or putting off the lawsuit as long as possible is understandable as you grieve your loved one’s death. When you work with an experienced attorney, they will take the stress of the case off your shoulders, allowing you to focus on moving forward from this tragic event. 

If you’re looking for a wrongful death attorney in California, Khalil Law Group can help. Call Khalil Law Group today at 714-617-7870 to schedule a consultation or learn more about the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.

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