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What is the Statute of Limitations in PAWrongful Death Cases?

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Living through a loved one’s death is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the human experience. It’s an overwhelming loss that often causes immense emotional pain. In some cases, in addition to navigating the rocky waters of grief, the surviving family members must also dive head-first into a complex legal process. This is the case when someone dies from a wrongful death, and their family members enter the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Many questions come up throughout filing a wrongful death claim, most of which can be answered by your Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer, but one of the most common is: how long do I have to file my claim?

What is the Statue of Limitations?

Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases

A statute of limitations, sometimes known as a limitations period, generally indicates the period after an event during which a legal claim may be made. In other words, this period is how long a claimant has to start legal proceedings after the event in question.

Statutes of limitations are generally state laws, so it’s important to check your state and local legislation for details of applicable laws in your area. However, in most places, the statute of limitations for any personal injury claim is two years from the date of the incident. Wrongful death claims fall under the umbrella of personal injury claims, so again, a two-year statute is the general rule of thumb. However, with a wrongful death claim, it’s important to know that the two-year clock begins on the date the death occurs, not on the date of the incident that caused the death. Sometimes, a victim will survive the initial accident and later on succumb to their injuries, so it’s key to distinguish between these two dates.

What is a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death is a death that is caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional violence. This encompasses many possible scenarios, including but not limited to a car accident, medical malpractice, hit and run accident, fall accident, and more. In all these cases, one party’s negligence may cause someone else to lose their life. In a car accident, for instance

In the case of medical malpractice, that negligence looks a little different. Doctors and medical professionals are legally obligated to uphold a standard of care when treating patients. Failing to uphold a standard of care could involve making a surgical error, providing an incorrect diagnosis, giving a patient the incorrect type or dosage of medication, and more.

These alone are considered medical malpractice, and when it causes a patient to lose their life, it becomes a wrongful death. Generally, whether or not a doctor has exhibited negligence is answered by asking whether another doctor, given the same or similar circumstances surrounding the patient and their treatment, has made the same choices and behaved in the same manner as the doctor in question. If the answer is no, negligence likely occurred.

Financial Compensation in a Wrongful Death Claim

In many cases, in addition to creating immense emotional pain for the surviving family members, a decedent’s death also places a huge financial burden on the family. This person’s death may mean lost income for the household. Things like burial costs can be astronomical.

For this reason, one purpose of a wrongful death claim is to provide financial support to the family members of the deceased person and compensate them for the losses they’ve experienced.

This compensation is generally divided into two types of damages: economic damages and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages reflect losses that have a specific and finite monetary value. This includes financial compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, and more.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are the more abstract losses that do not necessarily correlate to a specific number or value but are worth recognition. This includes things like mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and more.

Punitive Damages

In select wrongful death lawsuits, a third category of damages may come into play. Economic and non-economic damages are intended to compensate the family members who have endured these losses. Still, punitive damages are intended to punish the responsible party and dissuade them (and others) from engaging in this behavior.

A jury assigns these damages, and only in particularly egregious cases.

Exemptions to the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claim

In most cases, the wrongful death claim statute of limitations is a two-year statute. From the day of the decedent’s death, relevant family members (or a personal representative in some cases) have two years during which to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Remember: this is a general rule of thumb, but the specific statute of limitations for wrongful death can be different from state to state. Check your local laws, or speak with a wrongful death attorney to ensure you follow your state guidelines.

While a two-year statute of limitations is standard, this rule has some exceptions. Typically, these

Minor Children

One such exemption is if the person who wants to open the wrongful death case was a minor at the time of the death in question. In a case like this, the minor has until two years after their 18th birthday to file the wrongful death lawsuit.

For instance, if a child experienced the loss of their parent when they were twelve, they are not held to the same two-year statute. They instead have until their 20th birthday to take any legal action.


In rare cases, the defendant may attempt or have attempted to conceal the victim’s cause of death. This could result in the statute of limitations being extended. Proving that intentional concealment took place is extremely difficult, and it’s best to consult with one of our wrongful death attorneys before going down this road.

Discovery Rule

There are cases in which the reason why the death occurred is not discovered until later on, perhaps past the two-year statute of limitations. For example, someone may die in a hospital setting, but the family does not discover until years later that medical malpractice was the cause of the death. In a case like this, the typical two-year limit may be waived — instead, the two years would begin on the date that the actual cause of death was discovered. This practice is known as the discovery rule.

Work With An Experienced PA Wrongful Death Attorney

Any personal injury case that involves a fatality is legally extremely complex. It’s always wise to work with an experienced attorney fluent in wrongful death laws and with the skills and resources to fight for you. A wrongful death lawyer is an essential component.

It’s always best to begin the legal process as soon as possible to ensure you have enough time to build a strong case. Running to the end of the time limit can be risky, so don’t wait any longer. If you’ve experienced a devastating loss and are looking to advocate for your loved one via a wrongful death lawsuit, contact an attorney today.

Some of the ways an attorney can help you with your wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Ensuring you file all necessary documentation with the statute of limitations
  • Fight to extend the statute of limitations if needed
  • Gather evidence to build a strong case
  • Liaise with the relevant insurance company
  • Negotiate your settlement
  • Protect you in court if needed

Contact Us

The aftermath of a loved one’s death is a raw, fragile, emotionally devastating time. You and your family need space and time to grieve and cope with this unimaginable loss. No grieving family should have to navigate the complex legal process of filing a wrongful death suit alone — that is an undue burden placed on the shoulders of people already in anguish.Garbage Truck Accident Lawyers Daniel Munley, Marion Munley, and Robert Munley III That’s why working with one of our wrongful death lawyers is the best way to set you and your family up for success as you seek compensation and justice for your loved one. We cannot bring them back, but we can fight to ensure that the party responsible for this tragedy is held accountable and that your family is compensated for all your financial and otherwise losses.

When you work with a wrongful death lawyer, you know that the legal heavy lifting is taken care of so that you can focus on yourself and your family. We can help you fight to extend the statute of limitations if you meet the criteria. We can defend you in court if needed. And we will stand by you every step of the way, advocating for your loved one and seeking justice.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation, and learn how our wrongful death lawyers can protect you and your interests. We’re waiting to hear from you.

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