What Is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death?

Losing a loved one is always difficult, but knowing that your relative died because of someone else’s negligence makes it even harder. The impact on your life is immediate and devastating mentally, physically, and often financially. Although nothing will ever replace your family member, you can file a wrongful death claim against the negligent party to potentially receive damages for your loss.

However, filing a wrongful death claim successfully requires strict attention to state laws and court rules. For example, if you miss the wrongful death statute of limitations, your case will usually be dismissed. When you hire Nix Patterson’s wrongful death attorneys, you can rest assured that your case will be handled competently and professionally.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

In most states, a wrongful death claim allows you, as the surviving loved one, to demand compensation from any person or entity who caused your loved one’s death because of a wrongful act, carelessness, neglect, or unskillfulness. If your personal injury attorney shows the defendant was negligent in your loved one’s passing, they will be held financially responsible for compensating you for your losses.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

How long you have to file a wrongful death claim depends on the state where the incident occurred. For instance, in Texas, you have two years from the date of death to file a claim. The statute of limitations in Oklahoma to file a wrongful death claim is also two years.

Who can file a wrongful death claim also varies by state. For example, in Texas, legal surviving spouses, children, and parents of the deceased can file a claim. In Oklahoma, the law states that a personal representative can file the claim. The judge will usually appoint whoever the family wishes to be the personal representative.

In a recent change, Oklahoma law also provides that parents and grandparents can file a separate claim against a doctor who caused the death of an unborn child.

What Are the Consequences of Missing the Deadline?

After the statute of limitations expires, you usually forfeit the right to obtain compensation for the loss. In a few cases, some states offer options to file a claim after the statute of limitations has expired. Working immediately with a wrongful death attorney is vital to ensure you don’t miss the statute of limitations deadline.

Also, Texas in particular has a statute of repose for a wrongful death claim that is only 10 years, so that is the final deadline to file the case.

When Can the Statute of Limitations Be Extended?

The state’s statute of limitations can be paused or extended in some cases. This is known as ‘tolling’ the statute of limitations. For instance, the statute of limitations can be extended in Texas in these circumstances:

  • You’re a minor. If you lost a parent when you were under 18, the statute of limitations in Texas does not start until you become an adult on your 18th birthday. So, you have two years from your 18th birthday to file a wrongful death claim in Texas. Or another parent or guardian can file on your behalf before your 18th birthday.
  • The negligence was undiscovered until later. If you did not know that another party’s negligence caused the death, your cause of action did not occur until you knew. Thus, the statute of limitations clock only begins when you became aware of the negligence.
  • Fraudulent concealment of negligence. If someone caused your relative’s death purposely concealed their involvement, the statute of limitations does not start until you became aware.
  • You were mentally or physically incapacitated. If you were incapacitated mentally or physically when the person died, you could not be made aware of the death until later.

In Oklahoma, the statute of limitations may be extended if all surviving family members are under 18. Once the oldest turns 18, they would begin legal action against the negligent party. Also, if the personal representative in Oklahoma did not know about the negligence causing the death, they would probably have more than two years to file a claim.

Whichever state the death occurred in, wrongful death claims are usually unaffected by a criminal case. The wrongful death claim is handed in civil court, so any criminal case is separate. So, for example, if your wife died because of a drunk driver in a car accident, the criminal DUI case does not affect your civil claim against the driver and his insurance company.

What Damages Can You Receive in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Damages received in a wrongful death claim depend on the state. However, in Texas and Oklahoma, you can receive economic damages for the following:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of your loved one’s future earnings
  • Costs of medical treatments
  • Loss of retirement accounts
  • Loss of inheritance

These are called economic damages because they are quite simple to calculate. For example, your attorney can fight for loss of future earnings by showing what your deceased relative earned for the last several years of their life.

You also may be entitled to non-economic damages in the wrongful death case. These may include:

  • The physical pain and suffering your loved one endured before and during death
  • Your family’s emotional and mental anguish
  • Loss of care, companionship, and guidance

Non-economic damages in a wrongful death claim are often substantial but are challenging to measure. You can be assured that the defense will try to minimize non-economic damages, but your attorneys at Nix Patterson will use every legal tool available to fight for the most compensation.

Contact Our Nix Patterson Wrongful Death Attorneys Now

While two years might sound like a long time to file a claim, it goes quickly. Regardless of the state, wrongful death cases take a lot of time to document and investigate. Filing a claim in time could be very challenging if you wait until the clock is running out. So, retaining a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after your loved one’s passing is vital.

At Nix Patterson, we provide a complimentary case evaluation to determine if you have a strong wrongful death case. For more information, contact the wrongful death attorneys at Nix Patterson today.

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