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Widow Allowed to Bring Wrongful Death Case after Expired Statute of Limitations

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Late last year, the Washington Supreme Court released a ruling that clarified what is required for a plaintiff to successfully amend a complaint to add the proper defendant after the statute of limitations for the claim has expired. In Martin v. Dematic, Docket No. 89924-0 (WA 2014), the Washington Supreme Court permitted the plaintiff's amended complaint to proceed against the correct defendant, since the first complaint (which was filed against an improper defendant) was filed within the required time, and the amended complaint relates back to the date of the original suit’s filing. Based on this ruling, the plaintiff’s claim may be addressed by the court, and she could receive damages for her husband’s death.

Martin v. Dematic: The Facts

The widow's husband was killed on August 13, 2004 by a machine at a paper plant. Approximately 60 days prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for a claim arising from her husband’s death, the plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the apparent corporate successor to the company that installed the machine. The initial defendant, GCC, answered the complaint by demonstrating that another company, Fletcher, was actually responsible for any liabilities stemming from the machine involved in the accident. The district court agreed with the defendants and dismissed the case against GCC.

When the widow attempted to add Fletcher to the lawsuit, her claim was dismissed because it was not filed until after the statute of limitations had expired. She appealed the dismissal, arguing that under Court Rule 15(c), the second complaint “related back” to the filing date for the original complaint and was therefore filed within the statute of limitations.

The Court's Decision at Trial

The higher court agreed with the plaintiff's appeal and held that Washington Rule 15(c) allows the case to proceed against the new defendant unless the plaintiff’s failure to timely sue the correct defendant was the result of “inexcusable neglect.” The Court found that inexcusable neglect can only occur if the identity of the correct defendant was reasonably available to the plaintiff at the time of the initial filing, and if the plaintiff has given no reason for not timely filing against the proper defendant.

The Court reasoned that since the company that actually installed the machine did not exist at the time of the accident, and since “the merger and acquisition history of the installation company was particularly complicated,” that the identity of the proper defendant was not readily available to the plaintiff when she sued the improper defendant, and she therefore did not commit “inexcusable neglect” by failing to name the correct party before the deadline.

Wrongful Death Suits in Illinois

Successfully collecting on an Illinois wrongful death or personal injury suit is often more difficult than many people think. Accident victims must follow complicated local and state rules and statutes to prevent their claims from being dismissed before the court even looks at what happened. If a victim fails to file a case correctly or misses a deadline, he or she could be prevented from ever collecting on a claim, regardless of who is at fault for the actual injury. After a lengthy and likely expensive legal appeal, the plaintiff's case will be heard in Martin v. Dematic, but it would have been much easier for her to have sued the correct defendant in time, the first time.

Have You Lost a Loved One in an Illinois Accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in an Illinois accident, it is important to consult with a skilled Illinois wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Our dedicated advocates will do all that we can to get your case filed and tried correctly from the beginning. We know the complicated state, local, and federal rules that must be followed in order for you to get the compensation that you deserve after an accident causing injury or death. Contact us today.

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To speak to a professional and find out if you have grounds to file an injury lawsuit, call our firm at (844) 515-2223 or fill out the form below.

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