Sometimes a person dies due to an accident. The accident may be simply that — an “accident” that was unexpected and was the fault of no one. However, all too often people die in accidents that are the fault of another party. For example, a person could die in a car crash caused by a negligent driver, or a person could be the victim of medical malpractice. When a loved one dies due to the actions of another party, the victim’s loved ones may want to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it is important that they do not wait too long to do so, since there is a “statute of limitations” on wrongful claims in California that limits how long a person has to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
In California, if a person dies due to the wrongful act or neglect of another person, the victim’s survivors have two years from the time of the victim’s death to file a wrongful death claim. However, if the wrongful death was due to the professional negligence of a health care provider, the victim’s survivors have three years from the time the death occurred. There are exceptions to the three-year statute of limitations in the case of fraud, purposeful concealment or when a foreign body with no therapeutic or diagnostic purpose is left in a person’s body.
It is important that legal filings are made within the applicable statute of limitations. This is because once the statute of limitations is up, a lawsuit based on the facts of the case can no longer be pursued. This is true even if the person bringing the lawsuit had a legitimate claim.
It may be hard to think about filing a lawsuit when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. It is understandable that when a loved one dies, survivors are simply trying to get by day-to-day as they adjust to a new normal. However, if their loved one’s death was due to the negligent act of another, it is helpful to know that compensation may be sought for funeral expenses, loss of income and loss of companionship, among other damages. If a person believes they have cause to file a wrongful death claim, they should understand the timeframe in which they have to do so, so their claim will not be barred.