Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

Written By: Darl Champion

Date Posted: 05.24.24

Category: Wrongful Death

The loss of a loved one is a devastating experience, and when that loss is the result of someone else’s negligence or intentional actions, seeking justice becomes crucial. Wrongful death cases are legal actions brought by the surviving family members of the deceased to hold responsible parties accountable for their actions.

However, time is of the essence when it comes to filing a wrongful death claim. This is where the statute of limitations comes into play. Suppose you recently lost a loved one under these circumstances. In that case, you should understand wrongful death cases and the statute of limitations in such legal matters. An Atlanta wrongful death lawyer can explain these legal issues while protecting your rights and maximizing your compensation.

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Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful Death Claims

When a person’s death happens due to the negligence, misconduct, or intentional harm of another individual, family members can pursue a wrongful death claim. Common scenarios include car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, and criminal acts leading to death.

Each state has specific laws regarding who can file a wrongful death claim. Generally, immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents have the right to file a claim. In some cases, extended family members and dependents may also be eligible. Sometimes, personal representatives of the decedent’s estate can also file a claim.

Wrongful death claims can seek various damages, including financial losses such as medical expenses, funeral costs, lost income, and loss of financial support. Non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress can also be available.

Examples of a Wrongful Death

Wrongful death cases can arise in various scenarios. They can have significant legal and financial implications for the surviving family members. Here are some examples of wrongful death and why seeking legal representation is critical in these cases.

Car Accidents

Car accidents are one of the leading causes of wrongful death cases. When someone dies in a car accident due to another driver’s negligence, such as speeding, distracted driving, or drunk driving, it may constitute a wrongful death. The surviving family members of the deceased may be entitled to seek compensation for their loss, including funeral expenses, medical bills, loss of income, and emotional distress. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help pursue justice on behalf of the grieving family.

Truck Accidents

Even more devastating than many car crashes are commercial truck accidents. These crashes involving massive semi-trucks, tankers, and other big-rigs result in more than 5,000 fatalities each year in the U.S. When a truck driver or trucking company is to blame for the fatal collision, family members of the victims can seek compensation for wrongful death.


Too many people suffer fatal injuries in fall-related accidents due to preventable property hazards. Whether it is a fall down stairs, from a roof, on an escalator, in a swimming pool, or even a slip and fall on level ground, the resulting injuries can be life-threatening. Property owners or businesses are often responsible for these fatal accidents due to negligent inspection and maintenance of the premises, and they can face wrongful death claims.

Wrongful death cases can be complicated and emotionally challenging for the families involved. Always seek legal representation from an experienced attorney who handles wrongful death cases. A skilled attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding the death, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and advocate for fair compensation for the surviving family members.

The Statute of Limitations Explained

file a lawsuit

The statute of limitations refers to the legally established time period during which an individual can file a lawsuit. It sets a deadline for initiating legal action after a specific event, such as an accident or the discovery of an injury.

The statute of limitations serves several purposes:

  • It ensures that cases are filed in a timely manner to preserve evidence and witness testimonies.
  • It prevents the filing of stale claims, where evidence may be lost or unreliable due to the passage of time.
  • It provides a level of certainty and closure, allowing potential defendants (at-fault parties) to move on from potential litigation.

Understanding the statute of limitations is crucial in wrongful death cases. Failure to file a claim within the specified timeframe can result in the case being dismissed, barring the family from seeking justice for their loved one’s untimely death. Therefore, it helps to have a clear understanding of the applicable statute of limitations in your jurisdiction. The best way to do this is to hire a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer who will know what statute of limitations applies to your claim.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations by State

Each state has its own statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. The timelines may vary, ranging from one to six years, depending on the jurisdiction. Always consult a wrongful death attorney to determine the specific statute of limitations in your state.

The statute of limitations can vary not only from state to state but also based on the circumstances surrounding the case. Some jurisdictions have separate statutes of limitations for medical malpractice or intentionally caused deaths.

To provide a better understanding, here are a few examples of specific state statutes of limitations for wrongful death cases:

  • Georgia:  In most cases, you must file a wrongful death claim within two years from the date of death.
  • Tennessee: This state’s laws only give families one year from the death to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • South Carolina: Families have up to three years to file a wrongful death claim in civil court.

Some states allow longer time frames if the wrongful death stemmed from violence or hit-and-run traffic accidents. Further, statutes of limitations can apply differently when a minor has the cause of action for the wrongful death of a parent.

These examples of varying rules highlight the importance of consulting a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney who can help explain the specific laws in your state.

Factors Affecting Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations generally sets a specific time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, certain factors can impact this timeframe. Be aware that these factors may vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some common factors that can affect the statute of limitations include:

Discovery Rule

The statute of limitations may begin from the date the fatal injury or wrongful act was discovered rather than the date it occurred. This is known as the discovery rule. The purpose of the discovery rule is to ensure that plaintiffs (the parties bringing the claim) have sufficient time to file a claim after they become aware of the harm caused. For instance, if a person dies due to medical malpractice, but the family members only discover the cause of death years later, the statute of limitations may begin from the date of discovery.

Tolling of the Statute

Under certain circumstances, the statute of limitations may be tolled or temporarily suspended. This can occur when the plaintiff is a minor, mentally incapacitated, or serving in the military. Tolling allows these individuals additional time to file their claims once the tolling period ends. Be sure to consult a wrongful death attorney to determine whether any tolling provisions apply to your case.

Statute of Limitations Extensions

Sometimes, the statute of limitations may be extended beyond the standard time limit. This can occur when the defendant concealed or fraudulently concealed their actions that led to the wrongful death or when the plaintiff was under duress or threatened not to pursue legal action.

Extensions to the statute of limitations are not common but can be crucial in certain cases. Consult a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney to see if an extension may apply to your situation.

Consequences of Missing the Statute of Limitations

wrongful death lawsuit

If the statute of limitations is missed, the claim will likely be barred, meaning that the family will be unable to pursue legal action for the wrongful death. This can be a devastating outcome, as it denies the family the opportunity to seek justice and obtain compensation for their loss.

If the statute of limitations has expired, you should still always consult an experienced wrongful death attorney. They may explore alternative legal avenues or exceptions that can potentially allow the family to pursue their claim.

Tips for Navigating Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases

To best protect your legal rights, take timely action when pursuing a wrongful death claim. Consulting an attorney as soon as possible after the incident is crucial, as they can guide you through the legal process and help meet critical deadlines.

Understanding the statute of limitations can be difficult, and seeking guidance from legal professionals is highly recommended. An experienced wrongful death attorney can provide comprehensive advice and ensure you understand the deadlines and requirements for filing a claim in your jurisdiction.

From the moment the incident occurs, keep detailed records and documentation related to the wrongful death case. This includes medical reports, accident reports, witness statements, and any other relevant evidence. These records are often critical in supporting your claim and meeting the statute of limitations requirements.

How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, and the pain can be even more profound when their death happens due to someone else’s negligence or intentional actions. In these difficult times, know you don’t have to take on the legal process alone. A wrongful death attorney can be your trusted advocate, providing the support, guidance, and experience needed to seek justice and compensation for your loss.

One of the crucial roles of a wrongful death attorney is to investigate the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. They will dig deep into the details, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and consulting experts if necessary. This thorough investigation is essential to building a solid case and establishing liability. By leaving no stone unturned, your attorney can uncover the facts and bring the responsible parties to justice.

Once your attorney establishes liability, they will work tirelessly to seek compensation for you and your family. They will assess the damages incurred as a result of your loved one’s death, such as medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of income, and emotional pain and suffering. With their in-depth knowledge of the law and experience in handling wrongful death cases, they will fight for fair and just compensation on your behalf.

Dealing with the legal process can be overwhelming, especially when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. A wrongful death attorney will serve as your advocate and guide, handling all the legal issues on your behalf. They will prepare and file all the necessary paperwork, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if needed. This allows you to focus on healing and rebuilding your life while knowing your case is in capable hands.

Wrongful Death Attorney

In addition to the traditional legal aspects, a wrongful death attorney can also provide emotional support during this challenging time. They understand the pain and grief you are going through and will be there to listen, empathize, and provide comfort. They will be your trusted confidant, offering guidance and support as you navigate the legal proceedings and make essential decisions for your future.

Losing a loved one is an unimaginable tragedy, but you don’t have to face the aftermath alone. By partnering with a wrongful death attorney, you can have peace of mind knowing that you have an experienced advocate fighting for your rights and seeking justice for your loved one. Their knowledge, guidance, and support can make all the difference in your journey towards healing and obtaining the compensation you deserve.

File Your Wrongful Death Claim on Time with the Help of a Wrongful Death Attorney

In wrongful death cases, time is of the essence. Understanding the statute of limitations and adhering to the specific deadlines set by your jurisdiction is crucial. Failing to take timely legal action can result in the loss of the opportunity to seek justice and obtain compensation for the loss of your loved one. Don’t hesitate to consult a wrongful death attorney who can provide the necessary guidance and support throughout the legal process.

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.