What is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Cases in Pennsylvania?
Losing a loved one before their time is a tragedy. If you lost a loved one to a truck accident, a severe injury, a deadly workplace accident, poor medical care, or another event, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death suit. Winning one of these lawsuits may entitle you to compensation, including recovering funeral and burial costs, your loved one’s lost paychecks, any lost inheritances, and other damages that can help support your family after your loss. However, you have only a limited time to file these kinds of cases. For a free consultation and more information on filing, contact the Philadelphia wrongful death lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm today.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in PA?
Pennsylvania has strict deadlines on every type of case. Both criminal and civil cases carry “statutes of limitations,” which leave only a limited window of time to file any case. For most civil cases, the deadline to file is within 2 years of the date of injury. In the case of a lost loved one, there are actually two separate legal cases you can file together. The first is a “wrongful death” action to recover financial harms from losing a loved one. The second is a “survival” action, where you sue for any injuries the deceased would have been able to sue for, had they survived the accident. Both of these cases carry the same 2-year deadline to file.
The 2-year deadline is merely a deadline to file your case. This does not mean that your case needs to be completed by that date, but just that it needs to be filed with a court. You are allowed more time after filing to investigate your claim, trade evidence with the other side, take depositions, and actually try the case in court. Your attorney can guide you through this process, from filing to completing the case.
If you file your case too late, you may be blocked from recovery. Statutes of limitations are meant to allow a reasonable time period for filing. Getting your life together after the death of a loved one may be difficult, but the courts assume that there will be time in the following 2 years to get in contact with an attorney and file your case. The sooner you contact a lawyer about your case, the more time they will have to investigate and work on it. Much of this can be done in the background while you handle the changes in your life.
If your case is filed too late, the defendant may be able to raise the statute of limitations as a complete defense. Even if the defendant was negligent and caused your loved one’s death, the court cannot hold them legally accountable if your case is filed too late. The defendant can point to the statute of limitations and block your claims entirely in many cases.
Extending the Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In some cases, you may be entitled to an extension. This is usually due to various effects that “toll” or pause the statute of limitations. During a tolling period, the limitations period is paused and resumes again after the cause for tolling has ended. However, the circumstances that justify tolling the statute of limitations are rare.
First, you may be entitled to toll the statute of limitations because of “infancy. If you are under the age of 18 when the cause of action arises, you may be able to pause the clock. However, since there are often others entitled to bring a wrongful death statute, i.e. the other members of the family, this may not help.
If the defendants controlled the evidence that the death was due to their negligence, any attempts to hide the evidence may mean extending the deadline. If the defendant lied to hide the fact that the death was their fault, passing it off as an accident instead, you may be entitled to an extension. This “fraudulent concealment” can occur in a medical malpractice death case if the hospital tells you a different cause of death.
The last potential way to toll the statute of limitations is also most common in medical malpractice cases. Even with no affirmative lie, you may not be able to tell that malpractice caused the death. You can often extend the deadline to begin when you discover the cause of death was malpractice.
In any case, always talk to an attorney when you are considering filing a wrongful death suit. Because the statute of limitations can completely block your case, it is vital to file on time.
If you lost a loved one to a traumatic accident, talk to an attorney today. The Philadelphia personal injury lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm can help you file your wrongful death lawsuit on time and handle the case from start to finish. For a free consultation with our lawyers, call our law offices today at (215) 246-9000.