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Are There Statutes of Limitations on Wrongful Death Cases?

When you are considering the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit after losing a loved one due to another party’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing, it is critical to begin working with a New York wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that the claim is filed in a timely manner. In terms of the timing of your lawsuit, you might be wondering whether there are statutes of limitations on wrongful death cases in New York and what the timeline could be for your claim. In short, New York’s wrongful death law does have a statute of limitations, and it gives parties seeking compensation only two years from the date of the death to file a claim for financial compensation.

 If you recently lost a loved one or you are the executor of an estate, it is important to learn more about the New York statute of limitations in wrongful death lawsuits.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitation refers to the amount of time in which a claim can be filed. There are statutes of limitations associated with criminal and civil cases. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you are not seeking criminal consequences for the defendant but instead are seeking financial compensation for losses. Depending upon the type of civil lawsuit, the clock on the statute of limitations will begin to “tick” at different moments in time. Once the clock begins to “tick”, you have a limited time window to file a lawsuit. When the clock “runs out” of time, any potential claim becomes time-barred.

In some cases, the statute of limitations can be “tolled,” or paused, under particular conditions. However, you should never assume that the statute of limitations in your case has been tolled until you speak with a wrongful death lawyer in New York. Some statutes of limitations have been affected by the tolling provisions of the COVID-19 disaster emergency executive orders. It is important to speak with an experienced New York attorney about the specific facts of your case as it relates to the statute of limitations.

New York Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations in New York for wrongful death lawsuits is set forth in Estate Powers and Trust Law (EPTL) § 5-4.1. This statute provides that:

“The personal representative . . . of a decedent who is survived by distributes may maintain an action to recover damages for a wrongful act, neglect or default which caused the decedent’s death against a person who would have been liable to the decedent by reason of such wrongful conduct if death had not ensued. Such an action must be commenced within two years after the decedent’s death . . . .”

In practical terms, what this means is that the clock on filing a wrongful death lawsuit will begin on the date of the deceased person’s death, regardless of whether that person’s injuries result in immediate death or result in months or longer in the hospital before that person succumbs to the injuries. To be clear, the two-year time window opens upon the date of death. If a wrongful death claim is not filed within that two-year window, the lawsuit will become a time-barred claim under New York law unless the statute of limitations was tolled.

Understanding How the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Differs from a Personal Injury Statute of Limitations

It is important to understand that the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is distinct from the statute of limitations for other types of personal injury cases. Even if the lawsuits arise out of the same or a similar incident—such as a car accident, a slip and fall, or a medical error, e.g.—the wrongful death statute of limitations is distinct from the other types of personal injury lawsuits.  

Seek Advice from Our New York Wrongful Death Attorneys

Do you have questions about your eligibility to seek financial compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit, or whether you are still able to file a claim based on the statute of limitations? An experienced and aggressive New York wrongful death lawyer at our firm can begin working with you today on your case. Contact Powers & Santola, LLP to learn more about the services we provide to clients in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and across Upstate and Western New York. 

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