What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Action?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 December 2014
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The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action varies depending on which state of the United States (US) the death occurred within, and can range anywhere from six months to three years. In addition to the general statute of limitations regarding filing a course of action for wrongful death, there are also certain restrictions and exceptions made to some statutes regarding specific situations. Generally, a lawyer within the state where the wrongful death occurred should be contacted, and any action should be filed as soon as possible to avoid missing the opportunity to pursue legal action.

In the US, a wrongful death action is a civil case in which select family members of a person who was killed or who died due to someone else’s actions sue the person for damages due to the death. Unlike a criminal case of murder or homicide, a wrongful death action only needs to be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that situations can arise where a person is found not guilty of a criminal action but is convicted in civil court for the same offense. Some states, however, have passed laws that require that a person must be convicted of a criminal offense before a wrongful death action may be brought against him or her.


The actual statute of limitations for a wrongful death action, which is the time period in which the action must be filed, varies from state to state and can change based on the situation. For example, Arizona, California, and Alabama all require that a wrongful death action must be filed within two years of the date of the person’s death. In California, however, there is an exception made for death due to exposure to asbestos. The statute of limitations for such deaths is one year from when the death occurred or one year from when a plaintiff knew that asbestos caused the death, whichever is later.

This type of exception is referred to as a “discovery rule” and allows for the statute of limitations to be extended in situations where the full knowledge of what caused a wrongful death was not immediately known. In the state of Washington, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years, and in Colorado it is two years from the date of death. Colorado, however, has an exception for death caused by the use of a motor vehicle, which extends the statute of limitations to three years. These various exceptions, additions, and “discovery rules” can make fully understanding the statute of limitations for a particular state difficult to determine, and a legal professional should be consulted immediately by anyone interested in filing a wrongful death lawsuit.


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