What Is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death in Massachusetts?

A “statute of limitations” is a rule that puts a deadline on particular court claims.  Wrongful death claims in Massachusetts are one of the many types of civil lawsuits that has a statute of limitations.  This puts an outside limit on how long the family of the deceased has to file a lawsuit to get compensation for the death.

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations on wrongful death claims is 3 years.  There is a slightly more complex caveat to this rule that says you have 3 years to file from the time you should have known there was a wrongful death.  That rule can add complications to cases where the deceased’s death is a mystery.  In any situation, you should seek help from an attorney to advise you on the filing deadline that applies to your specific case.

For help with a wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts, call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407.  Our Boston wrongful death lawyers offer free case evaluations.

How Long Do You Have to Sue for a Loved One’s Death in Massachusetts?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is 3 years under Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 229, § 2.  This is the same time limit as the 3-year statute of limitations for non-fatal injury cases found under Ch. 260, § 2A.  This makes sense, as a wrongful death lawsuit is essentially a personal injury case involving death.  However, there are some specific differences between these statutes that affect when a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed.

The wrongful death statute of limitations also includes a clause saying that the case can be filed within 3 years of the time the executor of the estate “knew” or “should have known” about the cause of action.  Sometimes deaths are mysterious, and it is not immediately obvious what caused a loved one’s death.  The cause of death can be especially clouded when people are killed by things like toxic exposure from nearby plants or poisoning from defective products or medical implants.  This is commonly called the “discovery rule” since the statute of limitations is paused until you discover what happened.

How Long Do You Have to Sue for Death from Medical Malpractice in Massachusetts?

The statute of limitations for wrongful death specifically creates an exception in cases of death from medical malpractice.  Instead of Ch. 229, § 2, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 260, § 4 provides this statute of limitations.

Generally, victims of medical malpractice have 3 years to file a malpractice claim.  Again, this is the same deadline to file as other injury or wrongful death case, so this is the same rule so far.  However, the malpractice statute of limitations does create an additional rule: no case can be filed 7 years after it happened.  This means that if your loved one died of potential medical malpractice, it is important to act quickly.  Information discovered more than 7 years later cannot support a claim within 3 years like the wrongful death statute would normally allow.

There is one exception to this outside limit: malpractice cases involving an object left inside the body.  These kinds of medical mistakes are hard to discover, and they can take years of pain and discomfort before becoming actively dangerous to someone’s health.  It is possible to pass away years after a medical procedure where something was left inside without knowing about the malpractice.  The law is written with the understanding that these mistakes can be difficult for victims to discover, and it does not apply the 7-year maximum deadline to this type of medical malpractice case.

How Long Do You Have to Sue for Death by Hit and Run in Massachusetts?

Injury cases – including wrongful death cases – involving hit-and-run car accidents also have a special statute of limitations.  Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 260, § 4B puts a 3-year deadline on these cases, but there are other requirements that must be met sooner than 3 years.

It can be hard to know whom to sue for your loved one’s hit-and-run death, and the law creates some additional requirements for notification and filing deadlines.  First, the accident needs to be reported to the police and the registrar of motor vehicles within 30 days of the crash.  At any point after that, if the identity of the driver who hit your loved one is discovered, your case against them can be filed within 6 months of that time.

Talk to a Cambridge wrongful death lawyer about any other rules that might apply to your case.  One such exception might be Ch. 260, § 9, discussed below.

Suing an Out-of-State Resident for Wrongful Death in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a special exception for all statutes of limitations under Ch. 260, § 9.  If someone lives out of state when they commit an action leading to wrongful death, the statute of limitations clock does not start running yet.  The clock is also paused or “tolled” if the person who committed a wrongful death action leaves the commonwealth and begins living outside of Massachusetts.

This can be helpful if the person responsible for a loved one’s death tried to flee the commonwealth or simply moved away before you could hold them accountable.  This pausing or tolling should apply to other statutes of limitations, meaning that it could potentially extend your right to sue beyond the 3-year or 7-year hard limit of some of the statutes listed above.

What Do You Have to Do to Meet the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Case in Massachusetts?

We’ve established that the statute of limitations typically gives you 3 years to file your wrongful death case, but what do you have to do to satisfy that requirement?  Is it enough to simply file your case, or do you have to finish the claim within 3 years?

The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims is merely a filing deadline.  The court cannot accept any new filings on a case that took place more than 3 years ago (unless there is an exception you can use, such as the discovery rule).  However, a case that is filed within the 3-year deadline can take longer than that to finish without any issues.

One thing to make sure of is that you have filed your claim against all of the right parties by the time the statute of limitations runs out.  You cannot add parties or re-file the case against different parties if the statute of limitations has run on your case.  Talk to a Massachusetts wrongful death lawyer for help.

Call Our Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawyers for a Free Case Review

For help with your wrongful death case, call our Massachusetts wrongful death attorneys today at (617) 925-6407.  At the Law Office of John J. Sheehan, we offer free reviews of new cases.