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What are Statutes of Limitations, and Is There a Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases in Oregon?

Oregon law has long recognized that a person or entity who wrongfully causes the death of another should be held responsible for causing the death. Not only is it fair to the plaintiff bringing the suit, but it also helps promote a safe society where people behave reasonably and follow the rules. Wrongful death can result from causes incredibly numerous and varied, and we have talked about some of them in previous blog articles. Some examples of wrongful conduct or events which could lead to a wrongful death lawsuit include the following:

The time following the loss of a loved one is an especially difficult time. In addition to dealing with emotional trauma, one must consider all the legal issues associated with the deceased’s estate, as well as the many questions associated with a wrongful death lawsuit. One of these issues is the applicable statute of limitations.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Generally speaking, a statute of limitations is a law which specifies the time during which a legal action must be initiated. If the action is not initiated within the statute of limitations, the right to pursue the action is lost. Each state legislature passes statutes of limitations for various types of lawsuits. For example, in Oregon the statute of limitations for bringing a personal injury lawsuit for a car accident is two years. So, if a person suffered a broken leg on January 1, 2014 in an automobile accident caused by the negligence of another, and filed a personal injury lawsuit on July 1, 2016, the filing would be too late and would be barred by the statute of limitations.

Why Do We Have Statutes of Limitations?

References to statutes of limitations can be found even in ancient times. There are several important rationales. One is that evidence becomes less reliable with the passage of time. Some witnesses may pass away, and others may forget things. Important evidence can be lost. Society also thinks that it is unfair for a potential defendant to have to worry about being sued in perpetuity. Rather, the law believes that a plaintiff who intends to pursue an action should act with reasonable diligence. For these reasons, legislatures pass statutes of limitations.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020 provides that in Oregon, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years. The statute begins running from the date the injury that caused the death is discovered, or reasonably should have been discovered.

Statutes of Limitation Can Be Confusing, Even in Wrongful Death Cases

Assume a case where a surgeon performs a negligent surgery, and the patient dies five weeks later due to the medical negligence. When does the statute of limitations start running? Many people think from the time of the death, and sometimes that’s true. However, Oregon law provides that the time starts running from the date that the injury that caused the death is discovered, or reasonably could have been discovered. The parties could have a factual dispute as to when the negligent act was discovered. It might have been on the date of the surgery, the date of the death, or some date in between. The best way to avoid any issue at all is to prepare and file the case early so that there is no argument about the statute of limitations.

Complexity in Non-Death Cases

In our car wreck example above, we noted that a two-year statute of limitations applies where the victim of a car wreck broke his leg as the result of another’s negligence. Now assume further that the car of the injured person was also damaged. Does the two-year statute of limitations apply for recovering property damages to the automobile? The answer is “no.” In Oregon, a six-year statute of limitations applies to property damage arising from a car accident. In other words, two different statutes of limitation apply to the damages discussed in our example.

Call for a Free Consultation

Making a mistake with a statute of limitations can literally cost a person his or her right to pursue a case. As mentioned above, statutes of limitations are passed by each individual state, making specialized knowledge of Oregon law essential. Moreover, complex issues sometimes arise, making legal analysis indispensable. For these reasons, it is always advisable to consult with an attorney as early as possible to ensure that you know the applicable statute of limitations. If you are concerned, or have questions about a statute of limitations, please call us with your questions or for a free consultation.