Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Utah and What is the Deadline to Sue?

When a person is killed by the careless acts of an individual or business, the victim’s surviving loved ones may wish to file a lawsuit against the party who was responsible for the death.  However, there are strict legal rules restricting who may file suit and when.  If you are considering taking legal action on behalf of a fatal accident victim, you should speak with an experienced Salt Lake City wrongful death attorney who can help you evaluate your options and exercise your legal rights.

Can You Sue for the Death of a Family Member?

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A person’s death can deeply affect many lives.  However, only certain people have the legal authority necessary to file a valid wrongful death suit against the party who was responsible for the decedent’s fatal accident.

Criteria for who can file a wrongful death suit in Utah are outlined under Utah Code § 78B-3-106, which states that “when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs, or his personal representatives for the benefit of his heirs, may maintain an action” – in other words, file a lawsuit – “for damages against the person causing the death.”  Therefore, the next step is to determine who counts as an heir for legal purposes.

Heirs are defined at Utah Code § 78B-3-105 to include the decedent’s:

  • Adoptive parents
  • Biological parents
  • Children
  • Spouse
  • Stepchildren, provided they were financially dependent minors at the time of the decedent’s death

As Utah Code § 78B-3-106 notes, personal representatives also possess the ability to bring wrongful death suits in Utah.  A personal representative, who can be appointed in a will, is also responsible for managing other aspects of the decedent’s estate, such as debts, assets, and taxes.

How Long Do You Have to File a Lawsuit for Accidental Death in Utah?

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Not only do state laws limit who may file a wrongful death suit – they also create extremely strict deadlines for when that suit must be filed.  This deadline is known as the “statute of limitations.”

You may have heard of the statute of limitations in a different context, such as criminal law, where it functions to limit the amount of time a prosecutor has to charge a suspect with the commission of a crime.  The statute of limitations is extremely important in countless cases across countless jurisdictions, and Utah personal injury matters are no exception.

If you do not file a lawsuit before the statute expires (runs out of time), your case will be thrown out, meaning you will effectively lose your legal recourse.  In the interest of both obtaining compensation and holding the guilty party accountable for their actions, it is absolutely critical that you take action well before the statute of limitations expires.

The statute of limitations can vary widely depending on:

  • Which state has jurisdiction over a case.
  • What type of case is involved.

Utah’s statute of limitations on personal injury cases is four years, beginning from the date of the decedent’s death.  While that may sound like more than enough time, it is wise to start assessing your family’s legal options with an experienced lawyer sooner rather than later.

Remember, it takes time to obtain documents, track down witnesses, and analyze physical evidence like car accident wreckage or the inner workings of a defective product.  The earlier you contact a car accident attorney, the sooner it will be possible to begin building a comprehensive case.  If you don’t seek legal help until the deadline is on the verge of passing, there may not be enough time remaining to prepare an adequate legal strategy.

Even if you and your family are still deciding whether you intend to take legal action, it’s a good idea begin learning about your options in the event that you do decide to file a lawsuit later.  By starting early, you help to ensure that sufficient time will remain to pursue justice on behalf of your loved one.

Get the Experience of a Personal Injury Lawyer in Salt Lake City, Utah

To learn more about your family’s legal options in a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 895-3143.  There is absolutely no pressure or obligation: we’re simply here to help you understand your legal rights so that you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you and your family.  Wrongful death lawyer Darwin Overson has more than 33 years of experience and handles cases throughout the state of Utah.


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