The loss of a loved one is undoubtedly difficult, especially when the loss occurs prematurely. Wrongful deaths are, by nature, premature deaths that should never happen but do, most often due to negligence, recklessness, or even intentional actions.
If you have lost a loved one far too soon and are interested in pursuing compensation for your loss, it is important to note that you have a limited window of time to hire a wrongful death lawyer and take legal action, though thankfully, the clock stops ticking as you seek justice.
Statute of Limitations and Wrongful Death Claims
Most legal actions must be initiated within a certain period of time, known as the statute of limitations, or they become invalid. Wrongful death claims are no different, and in Florida, legal action based on wrongful death must be taken within two years of the incident that caused the death.
As such, if you are looking to pursue a wrongful death claim and more than two years have elapsed, you may already be out of time. However, there are a few exceptions to the statute of limitations for wrongful death that you should be aware of:
Medical Malpractice Exception
If the wrongful death of your loved one occurred due to medical malpractice, you might not be aware of the malpractice until far after the statute of limitations has expired. For that reason, the law has carved out an exception to the two-year time limit for undiscovered medical negligence. Known as the “discovery rule,” the exception effectively freezes the statute of limitations until the victim discovers (or should have discovered) their injury.
For example, if a physician carelessly treats a patient and dies three years later, the statute of limitations would normally prevent the patient’s family from filing a wrongful death suit unless the negligent treatment and subsequent harm are not discovered until a year or more later.
Out-of-State Defendant Exception
Service of process is essential in wrongful death lawsuits, but serving defendants who are not located within the state of Florida can be a complicated and time-consuming process. If the defendant of a wrongful death suit resides out of state, the court may halt the statute of limitations for a reasonable time until the defendant can be properly served.
Missing or Hiding Defendant Exception
The court may also stall the statute of limitations when a defendant is missing or in hiding. It is often the case that those responsible for wrongful deaths and other forms of personal injuries will hide or use a false name to avoid facing justice. They know that if they can’t be served, they can’t be required to resolve their liabilities.
Without court intervention on the issue, a liable party could essentially hide out until the statute of limitations expires. However, the law realizes that it is an absurd result that awards wrongdoers for their ability to avoid being served. Hence, the statute of limitations is placed on hold when the defendant cannot be located for whatever reason.
Other Important Timing Considerations
As alluded to earlier, swift legal action is important in wrongful death cases, but that is not simply due to complying with the statute of limitations. Delaying legal action can negatively affect your prospects of recovering compensation in various ways as well.
Evidence considerations arise when you wait too long to take action in a wrongful death case. After too much time has passed, your wrongful death lawyer may find it difficult or even impossible to get their hands on evidence crucial to your case.
Take witnesses, for example. As time passes after an incident that causes a death, witnesses to the accident may be difficult or outright impossible to locate, even in today’s digitally-driven world. Additionally, witness testimony becomes much less reliable over time.
Video footage is another example. Most businesses and organizations with surveillance cameras only hold onto their camera footage for a while, and the same holds true for municipalities with traffic cameras. Some jurisdictions in Florida delete their traffic cam footage in as little as 24 hours after its recording. If you need this evidence to prove your case, you may be out of luck if you wait too long.
When Is It Too Late to Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Ultimately, there are many factors that may cause it to be too late to hire a wrongful death lawyer, but before you determine that you have waited too long, you should meet with an experienced wrongful death lawyer to review your case.
You may very well find out that it is too late to hire a wrongful death lawyer, or you may discover that you indeed have time to take action. Since initial consultations are free, you risk nothing by scheduling a meeting. Contact the Schrier Law Group for a consultation and case review today.