If a wrongful death has occurred, sometimes evidence of medical malpractice can’t be found immediately for any number of reasons. If one waits too long to file a lawsuit for a wrongful death, sometimes it can result in the case being out of the court’s hands.
However, there are several steps you can take to get around the laws in place that indefinitely keep you from seeking damages for a wrongful death.
Understanding Wrongful Death, Medical Malpractice and Statute of Limitations
Medical malpractice is the act of negligence, infliction of harm, misdiagnosis, or surgical errors by doctors and other healthcare professionals resulting in the injury of a patient. In the state of Arizona, there is no cap on the damages you receive from successfully suing a dangerous doctor or hospital.
A wrongful death is considered a death resulting from medical malpractice or other situations in which the death could have been prevented by a specific party or entity. Typically a wrongful death suit is sought after when the justice system has failed or is not even attempted on behalf of the deceased.
However, the statute of limitations could possibly hinder or outright prevent you from receiving damages for the mistakes or crimes of those who caused the wrongful death.
So what exactly does statute of limitations mean? Statute of limitations are specific laws in place that set the maximum time after a crime has been committed that one can initiate a lawsuit or legal proceeding. If this set amount of time has passed, one may not be able to file a lawsuit or engage in legal proceedings related to the crime or event that occurred.
Statute of limitations laws exist so that a resolution can happen within a reasonable amount of time. This timeframe varies from state to state and country to country.
But if a crime has been committed, why should there be a limit on when you can seek action? For terrible things like sexual assault, sometimes survivors don’t speak about their trauma for a long time. It feels like we’re giving a criminal the benefit and an injustice may be happening.
Statute of limitations exist because it can be difficult or even impossible for someone to defend themselves years after the date in which they were accused of committing a criminal act. Memories and evidence become less credible and reliable over time as well.
Also, statute of limitations exists to provide detectives and prosecutors impetus to close a case quickly and respect one’s right to a speedy trial. The motives of trying to prosecute after such a large amount of time has passed can be a little shady too. Mostly, statute of limitations exist to protect the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death in Arizona
Statute of limitations for a wrongful death can be tricky and may also change in the future. Presently, the limitation period for a wrongful death, injuries that caused death, medical malpractice, or medical negligence is two years after the death of the victim in the state of Arizona.
What can I do after the statute of limitations has passed?
If the statute of limitations has passed, with very few exceptions, you may be unable to take your civil case to court in or outside Arizona. If you try to file a lawsuit against a hospital or doctor for medical malpractice resulting in a wrongful death after the statute of limitations has passed, the defendants can easily convince a court that proceeding with the suit violates the law and the case could be immediately dismissed.
However, if you are willing to apply your finances and energy into trying, there are exceptions to consider and steps you can take when the statute of limitations has passed.
The Discovery Rule
Although the statute of limitations for a wrongful death by default begins with the death of the victim, sometimes something called the “discovery rule” can come into effect and extend the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit.
The discovery rule is an exception where the statute of limitations does not begin until the injury or evidence of medical malpractice is discovered, or “reasonably” discovered. “Reasonably” can be a somewhat loose term in the case.
If a court decides that there is evidence or reason to support the idea that one had every reason to know of medical malpractice occurring or that the victim’s death was clearly a wrongful death, the case could be dismissed if the statute of limitations has passed and there will be no chance of furthering the case.
However, if evidence of medical malpractice or a wrongful death may be found long after the death of the victim and a court decides this is legitimate, you have two years after the discovery to take legal action or continue legal action.
Steps to Take in the Wrongful Death Legal Process
If you suspect a loved one’s death may be due to the negligence of someone, the first step is to seek legal counsel. Find a good medical malpractice or wrongful death attorney. A law firm with a good track record of winning such cases is ideal. Law firms will usually offer a free consultation of your case. From that, you can see if you realistically have a chance at proceeding with a case.
At JacksonWhite Law, we offer free case reviews that will provide you with a better understanding of what you can expect from a wrongful death case, and whether or not you have a strong case moving forward. Our consultations are done with attorney Jared Everton, and they’re available over the phone or in our downtown Mesa, Arizona office.
Be sure to gather any and all evidence you may have that can prove that not only your loved one’s death was a wrongful one or a result of medical malpractice, but also that you discovered the wrongdoing within a specific time frame. Be as detailed as possible and trust your lawyer’s guidance through the case.
The reality of a wrongful death lawsuit being dropped because of the statute of limitations is daunting and discouraging. There are options for you if the statute of limitations has passed and there is a chance you could continue with a case.
No matter where you are in the legal process, we can help you determine the best path moving forward. Our personal injury team is dedicated to our community, and we make every effort to provide our clients with the highest level of service.
Call our Personal Injury team at (480) 467-4392 to discuss your case today.