Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Statutes of Limitations

Civil actions like a wrongful death lawsuit have time limits in place that control when you can file a suit against another party. These time limits are known as statutes of limitations. If you lost a loved one due to the negligent deeds of someone else, it is in your interest to bring a lawsuit against the responsible party or parties as soon as possible to avoid the statute of limitations running out. However, there are situations in which an exception to the time limit may apply.

State Laws

The statutes of limitations that apply to wrongful death lawsuits are up to the states to decide. Therefore, different states each impose their own separate time limits. Generally, the timeframe in which to file a wrongful death suit is within two years, but you should check the specific rules that apply in your jurisdiction.

Discovery Rule

While it is important to know what the statute of limitations is in your jurisdiction, it is also important to know the beginning date. If the statute of limitations is two years, it is not necessarily two years from the date of your loved one’s death. It may be two years from the date of the negligent action that caused the death. For example, if a doctor prescribed your loved one an excessive amount of medication and your loved one died from taking it two weeks later, the statute of limitations would begin on the date that the doctor wrote the prescription.

However, it may be that you do not become aware of the negligent action until much later. In the above scenario, it may be several months later that you discover that the doctor prescribed too much medication. In that case, because of the discovery rule, the statute of limitations would begin not on the day of your loved one’s death or on the day that the doctor wrote the prescription but on the day that you discovered the doctor’s mistake.


One of the most notable exceptions to the statute of limitations occurs when the survivor is a minor. A person under the age of 18 does not have the legal authority to bring a lawsuit, so the statute of limitations does not apply until the survivor reaches the age of majority.

There are other situations in which the statute of limitations may be suspended or delayed at the court’s discretion. This is called tolling the statute of limitations period. You may also petition either the court or the opposing party to waive the time limit.

Despite the need to act quickly, the prospect of filing a wrongful death lawsuit may be overwhelming. An  attorney can help guide you through the process when you contact a law office.