The Importance of Compliance With the Statute of Limitations in Your Wrongful Death Case

The wrongful and unexpected death of a loved one can be overwhelming. It often involves grieving and caring for other affected family members. It may include having to plan final arrangements while also fielding phone calls from insurers and others seeking to obtain a quick (and cheap) settlement of your legal claims. As you deal with your family matters, rely on an experienced Oregon wrongful death lawyer to provide the assistance you need in addressing the legal matters.

This skillful representation matters because your case may involve a large amount of damages and will probably encounter a vigorous (and well-funded) opposition. A knowledgeable legal advocate can make sure everything is done properly… and on time.

Timing is a crucial element, as a recent federal wrongful death case shows. The case involved a Washington man who worked in shipyards for much of his 20s, often working with and/or near materials that contained asbestos.

In February 2015, his doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma. In early July of that year, he died at age 61. The worker’s wife later filed a lawsuit in federal court. Her complaint was dated June 28, 2018.

Both sides agreed that the correct statute of limitations (or period of time a potential plaintiff has for filing a civil complaint) was three years. The defense, however, argued that the deadline was three years after the man’s doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma, which meant the deadline was February 2018. Based on that timeframe, the defense asserted that the wife filed too late and that the court was required to throw out the case (with no option for re-filing.)

The Widow Filed Her Lawsuit Before the Deadline Passed

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly control federal cases litigated in Washington, Oregon, and several other western states,) ruled that the correct answer was the date of death, not the date of discovery of the injury. Federal law controlled the outcome and, under federal law, a wrongful death claim does not accrue (meaning a right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit does not exist) until the wrongful death occurs. That date controls all timeliness calculations related to the statute of limitations, regardless of when the victim was injured or when the victim discovered their injury. Even if the victim learned that he was terminally ill before dying, the wrongful death claim wouldn’t accrue until his death.

That meant that this worker’s widow had three years from July 3, 2015, to file her lawsuit. By filing on June 28, 2018, the widow’s legal team satisfied the statute of limitations and the case was entitled to go forward.

The limitations period in this case (“three years from the deceased’s date of death”) was the result of the court applying federal Admiralty law. Oregon law works differently. Oregon law says that you generally have only three years from the date the injury occurred. So, for example, if your loved one was struck by a negligent driver in March 2022 but did not pass away until May 2022, your deadline generally is March 2025, not May 2025. In some circumstances, the limitations period may not start until you discovered that you had a claim, but that is a narrow exception.

Regrettably, work-related wrongful deaths still occur far too often. When those deaths are the result of a company’s negligence or reckless misconduct, it is important to hold those entities accountable. The experienced team of Oregon wrongful death attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC is dedicated to representing workers’ families in Oregon and Washington diligently and compassionately as they seek to obtain fair and appropriate compensation for the loss they suffered. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email:
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