The statute of limitations in North Carolina for a wrongful death claim is two years, which is measured from the date of the victim’s death. This is the deadline for filing the lawsuit against all people and businesses who share responsibility for the fatal accident. Further, because the action is derivative of the decedent’s rights, the wrongful death lawsuit must be filed and properly initiated in the proper court within the same time period during which the victim could have brought a claim for injuries, had they lived. If the action would be barred by the statute of limitations if the victim were still alive and had sued, then a wrongful death claim based on the same injuries is also barred by the statute of limitations. For example, if an accident victim is injured in an accident and survives for more than three years and during the fourth year dies from the same injuries, the claim would be time-barred by the applicable three year statute of limitations for negligence actions.
In rare cases, the statute of limitations may be “tolled”, or delayed, such that the claim could be brought more than two years after the victim’s death. For example, in cases where there was no estate administered because the decedent left no property, but had a minor child, it is possible that the child’s claim for the wrongful death of the parent would be tolled until the child reached 18, which is the age of majority in North Carolina. Thus, the two year period would begin to run only after the child was a legal adult able to bring legal action on his/her own behalf.
Legal deadlines imposed by the statute of limitations are strict deadlines that can eliminate all legal rights to compensation arising from a fatal accident. Determining the exact suit-filing deadline can be tricky in some cases, especially where death is delayed or where no estate is filed and young children survive the decedent. Always seek direct advice on case deadlines from an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible in all wrongful death cases. Even if you choose to handle the fatal accident case without counsel, you should allow a trial lawyer to consider your family’s unique circumstances and provide reliable deadlines for all legal filings.