California’s Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases

The loss of a loved one is devastating under any circumstances. But when it could have been prevented—when a family member dies as the result of someone else’s wrong actions, whether negligent, reckless, or intentional—the grief and fallout can be even more complicated and acute.

When this happens, eligible surviving family members of the deceased may have the right to file a wrongful death suit, a civil suit that falls under personal injury law. Though it can be difficult and painful to deal with logistics and legal issues in the immediate aftermath of a family member’s untimely death, it is crucial to speak to a knowledgeable and experienced California wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.

Your lawyer will investigate the circumstances surrounding your relative’s passing to determine whether you have a viable case for a wrongful death suit. The timeline is

Under California law, with few exceptions, there is a strict two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death suits. The clock begins running down on this filing deadline from the date of the decedent’s death. That is an important distinction as in some situations, the incident that causes death happens well before the person dies—for example, if the victim of a car accident remained in a coma for several weeks before passing away.

If you miss the window for a suit, and no exception applies to your case, you will most likely lose all rights to make a claim, and the court will permanently dismiss the case. Certain exceptions can expand or shrink the two-year rule such as:

  • The discovery rule may apply if the family of the decedent could not reasonably have learned about their relative’s death until later. The court can extend the statute of limitations so that the two-year period begins when close family members discover it.
  • In situations where someone has died due to medical malpractice (negligence on the part of a doctor or other medical professional), the statute of limitations is complex. Typically, the decedent’s surviving relatives must file a suit within one year from the date of death or one year from when the claimant should have discovered the malpractice. The court may extend the statute to three years in rare circumstances, such as fraud or concealment.
  • In the case of a wrongful death lawsuit against a government agency in California, the statute of limitations is only six months.

The intricacy of wrongful death cases requires an expert attorney who can offer your family skilled, timely, and compassionate representation during a tremendously challenging time. Though no amount of money can bring back your loved one, a wrongful death claim may help you recover the unexpected expenses that family members face. If you have lost a loved one due to the reckless or negligent behavior of another our experienced attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * can help.