Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Claim

Losing a loved one due to another’s negligence is a tragedy. As you grieve, you may understandably feel overwhelmed by the idea of taking legal action against the responsible party. But many families experience serious financial hardships after a relative’s sudden passing. Filing a wrongful death claim can allow them to pursue compensation and obtain financial relief.

There is only a limited amount of time to file a wrongful death claim in California. This deadline is called the statute of limitations. It’s critical to take action before the clock runs out. Fail to file on time, and you could lose out on getting the answers, compensation, and justice that you and your family deserve.

With over 40 years of combined legal experience, the Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys of Custodio & Dubey LLP fight for fair compensation for clients in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. Contact us today to learn how the state’s wrongful death statute of limitations might affect your ability to pursue compensation. The first consultation is free.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations refers to how long you have to file a lawsuit against someone else. Each kind of civil action, including wrongful death claims, has its own statute of limitations period set forth by California law.

If a lawsuit is filed after the statute of limitations has run out on a plaintiff’s claim, the defendant(s) in that lawsuit can file a motion with the court to have the suit permanently dismissed. In other words, once the statute of limitations expires on your claim, you could lose your right to compensation forever.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in California?

Under California Code of Civil Procedure §335.1, a person eligible to bring a wrongful death claim normally has two years from the date of the decedent’s death to file a lawsuit against the party(s) at fault for their death.

However, for wrongful death caused by medical malpractice, the law states that the claim must be filed within one year of the date you discovered that the decedent’s death was caused by medical negligence. The statute of limitations can be extended to up to three years in cases where the negligent medical provider engages in fraud or concealment of their liability.

Finally, the strictest rules are for claims against government entities. In most cases, in order to preserve your right to file a civil complaint against a government entity, you must file a government claim within 6 months of the incident.

Can You Toll the Statute of Limitations?

In certain circumstances, a court may rule that the statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim has been “tolled.” When the statute of limitations is tolled, the time limit for filing a lawsuit is effectively paused or extended for a period of time.

There are several circumstances where tolling could be appropriate. For instance, a minor child does not have the legal ability to file a wrongful death claim for the loss of a parent. In this case, the statute of limitations would be tolled until the child’s 18th birthday.

Another example involves a legal doctrine known as the discovery rule. In cases where the cause of someone’s death is not immediately apparent but is uncovered later, the statute of limitations may be tolled to allow family members to bring a wrongful death claim against the negligent party.

Why You Should Talk to a Wrongful Death Lawyer Now

Although the statute of limitations gives you some time before you have to file a wrongful death claim, you should never wait until the last minute to talk to an attorney.

Wrongful death claims often require significant investigation and research on the part of your attorney. If you wait until weeks before the statute of limitations expires on your family’s wrongful death claim, your lawyer may not have enough time to fully investigate and prepare your claim before filing it.

Waiting to speak with a wrongful death lawyer also risks that critical evidence for your case may be lost to time. Accident scenes will be cleaned up, damaged or defective property will be fixed, documents could be deleted or destroyed, and witnesses’ memories will fade. Speaking to an attorney as soon as possible gives you the best chance to secure and preserve important evidence.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under California law, only certain categories of surviving family members of a deceased individual are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim, including:

  • A surviving spouse or domestic partner
  • Any surviving children (including legally adopted children) of the decedent
  • Any surviving grandchildren descending from any deceased children of the decedent

If no surviving family members fall into any of these three categories, California’s wrongful death statute allows for a claim to be brought by any party “entitled to the property of the decedent by intestate succession” under state law. This can include surviving family members such as siblings, parents, or grandparents.

The law also permits other surviving family members to pursue a wrongful death claim, provided they can show that they were financially dependent on the decedent at the time of their death. These family members include:

  • A “putative” spouse, or someone who had a good faith belief in the validity of their marriage to the decedent, where that marriage was void or voidable
  • Children of a putative spouse
  • Surviving stepchildren of the decedent
  • Surviving parents of the decedent
  • Surviving legal guardians of the decedent, if the decedent’s natural parents are deceased

Call a Los Angeles Wrongful Death Lawyer Now

At Custodio & Dubey LLP, we know you’re hurting. We also know that someone should pay if they are responsible for your loved one’s death.

Put your case in our hands. Our Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys are experienced trial lawyers who will push for maximum compensation for you. We can handle all aspects of your claim for you. That will give you time to grieve in peace without worrying about how you’re going to make ends meet.

Call or contact us today for a free and confidential consultation with a compassionate wrongful death lawyer.