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More than 800 bicycle riders are killed in traffic accidents every year. While the fatality rate fluctuates, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that deaths caused by car crashes are increasing.
When a negligent driver causes a fatal bicycle accident, the family of the deceased victim can pursue a claim for wrongful death. In most states, the family can recover partial compensation even if the bicycle rider’s own negligence contributed to the accident.
Legal claims that relate to fatal bicycle accidents are governed by the wrongful death laws of each state. Each state decides how compensation for a wrongful death should be determined. State law also determines which family members can initiate or join the claim and how compensation should be distributed when the claim is settled. In addition, state laws determine the right of the victim’s estate to bring claims based on a death that follows a bicycle accident.
Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Case After a Bicycle Accident
Every state recognizes the right to sue a negligent driver when a traffic accident kills a bicyclist. The time limit for bringing a claim to collect wrongful death compensation is not unlimited. Each state has a set of laws called the “statute of limitations” that sets deadlines for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. The deadline imposed by a statute of limitations is important. The right to sue for compensation will be lost if a wrongful death lawsuit is not filed, or if the case is not settled before the deadline passes.
The period in which a lawsuit must be filed before the right to sue is lost is called a limitations period. The limitations period that applies to a wrongful death claim may or may not be the same as the statute of limitations that governs an injury claim. The limitations period that applies to a wrongful death claim might start to run on the date of death or on the date of the accident, depending on state law.
The limitations period for a wrongful death lawsuit is usually two or three years. The shortest limitations period is one year and the longest is six years. Understanding the limitations period and how it relates to the facts of the case is vital to a family’s right to collect compensation for a fatal bicycle collision.
Laws Affecting the Time for Filing a Wrongful Death Case After a Bicycle Accident
The limitations period is not the only law that affects the time for making a wrongful death claim. The limitations period may be shorter, for example, if a negligent driver caused the accident while working for a state, county, or municipal government. Even if the limitations period is the same, a notice of claim law may apply to accidents caused by government workers.
Notice of claim laws do not change the time for filing a lawsuit, but they do set deadlines for giving notice of intent to bring a legal claim. The contents of that notice are set by state law. Failing to provide this on time and in the manner established by state law might cause the victim’s family to lose the right to make a wrongful death claim.
Many states “toll” or pause the limitations period for a family member who is a minor. The limitations period starts to run when the minor turns eighteen. When a claim is made by an estate, some states toll the limitations period until the estate enters probate.
Some states toll the limitations period if a criminal prosecution is (or could be) brought against the negligent driver. The tolling period usually ends when the charges are resolved, although there is typically a maximum time during which the period can be tolled.
The complexity of laws governing the timing of lawsuits can be overwhelming for families who are grieving the loss of a loved one. A bicycle accident lawyer is in the best position to advise families about the limitations period and other laws that govern a lawsuit relating to a loved one’s death.