What Is the Statute of Limitations on a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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 In West Virginia, the statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits is generally two years from the date of death. Family members who have lost a loved one must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years or lose the right to claim compensation. Speak with an experienced attorney at Warner Law Offices, PLLC, who can explain your legal options and how the West Virginia wrongful death statute of limitations affects your case.

Families who have lost a loved one due to someone’s reckless or negligent conduct face overwhelming hardships, including grief, emotional stress, and financial struggles. While this time is devastating for family members, it’s critical to remember that there is a limited timeframe to take legal action and pursue justice on behalf of the deceased. 

In general, the West Virginia wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. In most but not all situations, if you’re a loved one of someone who was wrongfully killed, this means you only have two years to file a lawsuit and recover damages. If you fail to file a wrongful death claim before that deadline expires, your case will most likely be dismissed, and you will lose the right to claim financial compensation. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Our wrongful death lawyers can help you understand how the statute of limitations applies in West Virginia. 

What Is Considered Wrongful Death in West Virginia?

According to West Virginia law, a wrongful death claim is a type of civil action seeking compensation for damages when a death is caused by negligence or misconduct. Common examples of negligence that can lead to wrongful death include car accidents — including drunk driving accidents — slip and fall accidents, hit and run accidents, workplace injury, and medical malpractice. 

Families who tragically lost a loved one may qualify to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include: 

  • Cost of medical care before the death 
  • Lost wages and benefits 
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses 

Non-economic damages, which are more subjective, could compensate you for: 

  • Loss of services, companionship, and guidance 
  • Pain and suffering 
  • Mental anguish 

If the deceased person would have been entitled to bring a personal injury claim if they had lived, families can take legal action on their behalf with a wrongful death lawsuit. However, they must follow procedures to have a personal representative appointed and file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. 

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a set period in which a party must file a legal claim. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases typically starts to run on the date of injury or when the injury was discovered. For wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations begins on the date of death. If the accident that eventually led to the victim’s death was not the same date as the day the victim died, the timeframe starts on the death date, not the day of the accident. 

Why Is There a Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in West Virginia?

Although two years is not a long time to bring a legal claim for compensation after the death of a family member, there is a reason for the deadline. The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases and all other personal injury lawsuits is meant to ensure fairness and justice. As time passes, it’s possible to lose crucial evidence, including verifiable information and witness credibility. Without accurate evidence, the claim could be unfair to all parties involved. 

If you’re considering legal action after the wrongful death of a loved one, speak with a skilled wrongful death attorney right away. Your lawyer will evaluate your case and determine what deadline applies to your lawsuit. Also, a legal professional knows what steps to take to initiate your case and move forward through the legal process. Swift action will help you avoid missing the deadline to claim the compensation your family needs and deserves. 

Exceptions to the Wrongful Death Lawsuit Statute of Limitations

While the two-year statute of limitations generally applies to most cases, some exceptions can change the deadline to file a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, wrongful death cases that involve medical malpractice may have a different timeframe than other personal injury lawsuits. Here are a few exceptions that could affect your case. 

Medical Malpractice

In some cases, it may not be immediately apparent that a person’s death was caused by medical malpractice. It can take time to discover the cause of death was due to a medical professional’s negligence. If this happens, the statute of limitations will typically start to run on the date of discovery rather than the decedent’s date of death. 

According to West Virginia law, legal action must begin within one year of the date of discovery that medical malpractice caused the death when it is against a nursing home, assisted living facility, or a distinct part of an acute care hospital providing intermediate care or skilled nursing care.  

Under West Virginia law, legal action must begin within two years of the date of discovery that medical malpractice caused the death when it is against all other health care providers.  

A legal action for injury resulting from mediation malpractice to a minor, brought by or on behalf of a minor who was under the age of 10 years at the time of such injury, shall begin within two years of the date of such injury, or prior to the minor’s 12th birthday, whichever provides the longer period. 

No legal claim can commence after 10 years from the date of the medical malpractice injury.

Other Cases That Take the Discovery Rule

There may be some exceptions to the wrongful death statute of limitations if evidence was concealed or otherwise not discoverable until a later time. However, you must speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to see if this exception applies to your case. Do not assume you will have longer than two years to file your lawsuit. 

Negligence of Government Agencies

Any legal actions against government entities can be more complex and time-restricted than other cases. Suing a government agency in West Virginia for wrongful death requires advance notice of the action and careful navigation of the legal system. Contact Warner Law Offices, PLLC, to learn more about wrongful death lawsuits and government entities. 

Tolling a Statute of Limitations Period

Rather than extending the wrongful death lawsuit statute of limitations, there are reasons to toll, or pause, this deadline. There are very limited situations that would allow the tolling of the statute of limitations period, and a lawyer should be contacted to determine if any situation would apply. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in West Virginia?

In West Virginia, a personal representative of the estate must be appointed to file the wrongful death lawsuit. If the decedent has a will, it may say who that personal representative is for any legal actions. However, if a person was not designated, a spouse or other family member can apply to be appointed as the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. 

Although the personal representative has a duty to file the wrongful death claim, certain family members of the decedent and other individuals may be entitled to receive compensation. When damages are awarded, the following people may be considered beneficiaries: 

  • The surviving spouse 
  • Children, including adopted children and stepchildren 
  • Parents 
  • Siblings 
  • Others financially dependent upon the decedent 

Skilled West Virginia lawyers can provide guidance and professional advice while handling all the steps of filing your claim. However, you must act quickly if you want to recover damages for your family after your tragic loss.

Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney at Warner Law Offices

At Warner Law Offices, PLLC, our attorneys offer compassionate support and aggressive advocacy for families of wrongful death victims in Charleston and throughout West Virginia. As caring and active members of the community, we have more than 20 years of experience in this field with a proven record of success. We’ve secured millions of dollars in compensation for our clients and are ready to help you pursue justice. Call us at 304-345-6789 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation

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Attorney Bobby Warner
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Bobby Warner

Bobby has received many accolades throughout the years from both his peers in the legal community, as well as the media. The National Trial Lawyers association named Bobby a Top 100 Trial Lawyer and he has been selected as a Member of the Nation’s Top One Percent. Additionally, he has been named a Best Attorneys of America by Rue Ratings, which also named Warner Law Offices to its Best Law Firms of America.