FAQ: How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

You have between one and three years after the date of the death to file for wrongful death in most states, but each state has its own statutes of limitations. You can learn more about these below:


A statute of limitations for wrongful death is a type of state or federal law that restricts the amount of time an individual has to file a civil lawsuit to receive compensation after the death of their loved one has occurred. These limitations exist because evidence often becomes degraded, corrupted, damaged, or simply lost over time. Another example is that witnesses to the wrongful death event may remember events inaccurately, forget details, move out of the state, pass away, or be paid off by the defendant.

Whatever the case, you have a limited time to sue for wrongful death no matter where you live. As a personal injury attorney practicing in both Missouri and Illinois, we have a deep understanding of the statute of limitations in both states. Contact us to learn more!

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Missouri

According to Missouri Revised Statute § 537.100, the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases allows claimants three years from the date of the death to file a lawsuit.

Only one wrongful death action may be brought for the death of any one person. Furthermore, it can only be brought forth by certain classes of people, with class one having the highest preference and class three the lowest:

  • Class 1 – parents, spouse, children, and lineal descendants
  • Class 2 – siblings, nephews, and nieces
  • Class 3 – plaintiff ad litem

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Illinois

According to Illinois Law, the statute of limitations in wrongful death cases allows claimants two years from the date of the death to file a lawsuit.

Wrongful death suits can be brought forth by surviving spouses and children. However, if there are no surviving members of the decedent’s immediate family, the rights can extend to other “next of kin” relatives who would have taken the decedent’s property by intestacy. This can include parents and siblings. If the deceased individual did not have an appointed personal representative to handle their estate plan, the Illinois court system may appoint one.

Other Common Factors That Can Affect Time to File a Wrongful Death Claim

After the statute of limitations has run out, courts are more than likely to refuse a claim but there are some exceptions regarding legal action.

One important question is: when does the clock start ticking after a wrongful death occurs? Generally, the answer is that once the party bringing the suit has discovered — or should have discovered with reasonable diligence — the cause of death of the victim, the clock starts. For example, this could be the very same day someone has died if the cause of the misconduct is obvious. This is known as the Discovery Rule and, put simply, if the victim was killed because of negligence that was uncovered months or even years after the event, the family may still be eligible to file suit.

There are also a few exceptional circumstances that MAY qualify for an extension or a pause in the timing, including:

  • Plaintiff is underage
  • Plaintiff is disabled or mentally incapacitated for an amount of time following the death
  • The defendant leaves the state
  • One of the parties has caused multiple ongoing delays
  • Fraudulent concealment of evidence by the opposing party

Once again, if you don’t file your case within the time period designated by your state, then you will likely be barred except for certain circumstances. That is why it is critical that you speak with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible following the death of your loved one so that you can figure out if you have a case and, if so, when the filing deadline is.

Wrongful Death Lawyer | Contact The Hayden Law Firm

If your loved one tragically passed away because of another person’s negligence, you have a limited time to file a lawsuit. Contact us or call our wrongful death lawyer in St. Louis, MO, at The Hayden Law Firm at (314) 480-3100 for a free, no-risk consultation.


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