Civil lawsuits are subject to a time limit on when they must be filed in court. These time limits are called statutes of limitations. Each particular type of civil claim, whether a breach of contract claim, a personal injury case, or a wrongful death claim, has its own statute of limitations. However, individual circumstances in a civil claim can affect when the statute of limitations period starts or continues to run. For that reason, it is critical that individuals who may have a civil case such as a wrongful death claim speak to an attorney as soon as possible to determine how long they have before they need to file a lawsuit. 

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is a law that provides a deadline by which a lawsuit must be filed in a civil claim. Each type of civil case has its own statute of limitations. Some civil claims have a statute of limitations as short as one year, while others have limitations periods of six years or even more. For wrongful death claims, the statute of limitations in New Jersey is two years from the date of death. 

If a lawsuit is not filed for an individual claim by the time the statute of limitations runs out on that claim, the defendant in the lawsuit can move to permanently dismiss the case as untimely. When a person’s lawsuit is dismissed as untimely under the statute of limitations, they have lost the right to pursue financial recovery and other legal relief from the opposing party. 

The purpose behind the statute of limitations is to ensure that parties with legal claims diligently pursue those claims in court so that evidence that may be relevant to the claim is not lost over time and witnesses who may have relevant testimony don’t start to forget important details. The statute of limitations also provides a sense of finality to potential defendants by ensuring that they will not be surprised by old, stale legal claims. 

What is the Discovery Rule?

The statute of limitations normally begins to run on the date that the legal claim accrues, or in other words, the date that the events giving rise to the claim occur. For wrongful death claims, the claim accrues and the statute of limitations period begins to run on the date of the decedent’s death.

However, there are legal doctrines that can pause, or “toll,” the running of the statute of limitations. One of the most important doctrines that can toll the statute of limitations is known as the “discovery rule.” The discovery rule states that a statute of limitations may be tolled until a claimant knows of (or “discovers”) their injuries and the facts underlying their claim (such as who caused that injury), or until the claimant should have learned of their injuries and legal claim through the exercise of reasonable diligence. In wrongful death actions, the discovery rule can toll the statute of limitations until the date that the surviving family members discover the cause of their loved one’s death and the identity of the party or parties responsible for causing their death. 

Other Ways to Toll the Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations may also be tolled for other reasons, such as:

  • The defendant engages in fraud or misconduct to conceal their liability
  • The claimant is physically and/or mentally incapacitated from being able to file a lawsuit, with the statute of limitations tolled during their period of incapacity.
  • The claimant is a minor, with the start of the statute of limitations tolled until they turn 18. 

Contact a Rochelle Park Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Wrongful Death Case in New Jersey

Did a loved one sustain fatal injuries in New Jersey? Don’t let the bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at The Epstein Law Firm represent clients in wrongful death cases in Jersey City, Union City, Bayonne, Hoboken, and throughout New Jersey. Call (201) 380-7687 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 340 West Passaic St., Rochelle Park, NJ 07762.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.