Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases – Time Constraints and Exceptions

Posted in: Wrongful Death | Aug 28,2023

Losing a loved one due to the negligence or wrongful actions of another is an emotionally devastating experience. In such tragic circumstances, legal recourse can provide a way for families to seek justice and compensation to begin a new path forward in life. However, pursuing a wrongful death case is subject to various legal rules, including the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations defines the time allotted to file a wrongful death claim. After the statute of limitations has expired, you may not bring your case to court. However, there are some exceptions. This blog post explores the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases, both generally and within the context of Indiana law, shedding light on crucial time constraints and significant exceptions that can affect the pursuit of justice.


Understanding the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases

The statute of limitations is a legal time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. In wrongful death cases, it dictates how long surviving family members must initiate legal action against the responsible party. While laws vary by jurisdiction, the general principle is to prevent undue delay in pursuing legal claims and ensure evidence preservation. Statutes of limitations for wrongful death cases vary by state. In most states, the statute of limitations is two years, while Arkansas, Maryland, and Massachusetts have a statute of limitations of three years, depending on the circumstances of the case. 


The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases in Indiana

The Indiana Adult Wrongful Death Act states that the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is typically two years from the date of the deceased’s passing. In other words, the lawsuit must be filed within two years to be considered valid by the court. Wrongful death claims involving the death of a minor child are governed separately by the Indiana Child Wrongful Death Act; however, the statute of limitations is usually the same (two years from the date of the incident that resulted in the child’s death). It’s important to note that certain circumstances can alter this timeline.


Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Discovery Rule: In some cases, the clock on the statute of limitations might not start ticking immediately upon the individual’s death. If the cause of death is not immediately apparent or if evidence emerges later that indicates wrongful actions, the “discovery rule” might apply. This rule allows the statute of limitations to start when the wrongful actions were discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.


Tolling for Minors: If the plaintiff in a wrongful death case is a minor, the statute of limitations might be tolled (paused) until the minor reaches the age of majority (18 in Indiana). This exception ensures that minors are not disadvantaged by legal time constraints.


Government Entities: When the responsible party is a government entity, such as a municipality or a government employee, the procedures and time limits for filing a claim can differ. In cases where the government is the defendant, plaintiffs might face shorter notice periods and unique procedures. 


Fraud or Concealment: If the responsible party intentionally conceals information related to the wrongful death, the statute of limitations might be extended. Courts may recognize that holding the victim’s family to the original time limit would be unjust if critical information was hidden from them.


Product Liability: In cases involving defective products that cause wrongful deaths, the statute of limitations might start from when the defect was discovered or when it reasonably should have been discovered.


If you are unsure whether you have a wrongful death case or are concerned about the ticking clock on your claim, the best thing to do is consult an attorney as soon as possible. The wrongful death lawyers at Montross Miller understand that time is of the essence. The sooner you seek legal assistance, the sooner you will get the answers you need. Contact Montross Miller today to schedule a confidential, complimentary case evaluation.