Our legal system can seem daunting, especially to inexperienced plaintiffs, due to the legal technicalities and rules involved in filing a claim for compensation. Coupled with the emotional burden of dealing with the sudden and devastating loss of a loved one, that confusion often feels insurmountable. One concept in particular that tends to complicate is the statute of limitations. Here are answers to some common questions about statutes of limitations.
What are Statutes of Limitations?
Statutes of limitations are rules that essentially set a time limit after something happens—an injury, an accident, a threat, a death, etc.—for filing civil or criminal claims. If a claim is filed after the statute of limitations is up, the courts may not allow it to be heard. Even if a late claim is brought to court, the defense could successfully argue that the claim should be thrown out because the statute of limitations has expired. In both examples, filing a claim exceeding the statute of limitations often means that the case is never heard and no damages are awarded.
Are the Statutes of Limitations the Same Everywhere?
No. The statute of limitations depends on what law is in question and in what state the claim is being filed. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for most civil cases, including wrongful death, is 3 years. The same 3 year limit to wrongful death cases applies in New Hampshire according to state law.
Do the Statutes of Limitations Allow for Flexibility?
It depends on the state and the claim in question. In certain circumstances, the courts may count the statute of limitations differently or allow for exceptions.
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case typically starts from the date of the death. However, if the death is not obviously wrongful and the estate administrator discovers evidence in the course of their duties indicating wrongful death, then the statute of limitations applies from that moment of discovery. The time limit of 3 years does not change but how it is counted does.
The same law also establishes that in cases in which the wrongfulness of a death is not immediately clear, the statute of limitations applies from the moment the estate administrator should have reasonably discovered the evidence.
If The Statute is 3 Years for Wrongful Death Claims, Why Should I File a Claim Quickly?
For filing a wrongful death claim, 3 years might seem like plenty of time. However, it is important to file as soon as possible after the loss of a loved one or after the discovery of crucial evidence. Evidence can degrade or be misplaced. Witnesses may become difficult to locate or their memories of the events might fade. Those who might be liable may not be reached for trial.
Filing a wrongful death claim promptly and correctly is often difficult. At Mazow | McCullough, P.C., we can help you file a claim within the statute of limitations and help you find justice for your loved one. Contact us today for a free consultation at 978-744-8000.