The New York Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases

The statute of limitations in wrongful death cases is two years in New York state. This means that a plaintiff has two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death action, or lawsuit. This time period is shorter than that available to plaintiffs in negligence cases and medical malpractice cases, three years and 2½ years, respectively.

Wrongful death claims most frequently involve motor vehicle crashes, medical negligence and defective products. The details of the New York wrongful death law can cause problems for the families of patients who died as a result of medical malpractice. An example of this would be someone who died of cancer after a test such as a mammogram or PSA came back negative for cancer. If the misreading of the test results was not discovered until after the expiration of the two-year limit, the family would probably be unable to file a wrongful death lawsuit even though they were unaware at the time of the death that medical malpractice was involved.

Cases Against the Government Require Filing a Notice of Claim

Unlike negligence cases, the statute of limitations is the same if your claim is against a public entity such as a state or municipal government, transit system, school district or any other governmental or quasi-governmental agency. In personal injury matters, the time to file against the city or state is usually one year and 90 days. However, the two-year limit applies in wrongful death cases, even in matters in which the government is the defendant.

Although the time limit is the same whether the defendant is a private or public entity, there is one major difference: The plaintiff must serve a Notice of Claim within 90 days after the appointment of a representative of the decedent’s estate. If a Notice of Claim is not served against the public entity within the 90-day limit, the decedent’s estate will be unable to file a wrongful death claim.

Exceptions for Minor Children

Another issue that could affect the statute of limitations is whether the only potential beneficiary is a minor child. If that is the case, the statute of limitations may be extended until a guardian is appointed or the child reaches the age of majority – usually 18 years. However, if the deceased had executed a will than named a parent as executor or appointed a guardian, then the statute of limitations would remain at two years.

Exceptions When Death Was Caused by Another’s Intoxication

Another possible exception can be found in the Dram Shop Act. If the deceased died as a result of the intoxication of another person, usually in a motor vehicle crash, then the case is prosecuted under the Dram Shop Act rather than the wrongful death statute and the statute of limitations is three years rather than two.

Exceptions When Defendant Is Proved to Have Hidden Negligence

The New York statute of limitations in wrongful death actions was in the news recently. A case involving Bristol Myers Squibb illustrates both how the statute of limitations works and another possible exception to the rule. A judge ruled that the plaintiffs were ineligible for relief because the statute of limitations had expired and they had not demonstrated that Bristol Myers Squibb had tried to hide their activities. If they had proven this case successfully, then it might have been possible to extend the time allowed to file a lawsuit. However, the judged ruled against them, throwing out their lawsuit alleging that Bristol Myers Squibb had caused the wrongful deaths of their loved ones by knowingly releasing toxic substances into the environment.

There are other issues related to the New York state statute of limitations in wrongful death cases. A knowledgeable personal injury and wrongful death lawyer can help you understand how the law applies to your situation.

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