Timely Filing of Carolina Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Generally in North Carolina, filing an Asheville wrongful death lawsuit must occur within two years of the date of death. This is called the statute of limitations, and the courts require strict adherence to time limits. A case could be tossed for filing even one day too late.
There are, however, exceptions. There are a few instances under which the length of time could be tolled (paused and thus lengthened). Then there are some circumstances wherein the date of injury occurs much earlier than the date of death, and here, the clock on that statute of limitations may start ticking at the time of injury.

This is why it’s so imperative to meet as soon as possible with an attorney if you are contemplating filing a case. Wrongful death lawsuits are complex, and even before your attorney can file, he or she will likely want to:

  • Research the case;
  • Gather all necessary documents and records;
  • Evaluate the potential strengths and weaknesses of the case;
  • Determine specifically what legal claims of negligence can and should be made;
  • Identify all parties to be sued;
  • Select the proper court in which to file.

This is tougher to do if you approached a lawyer very close to such a deadline.

The case of Narayanan v. British Airways, reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, illustrates what can happen when plaintiffs miscalculate the statute of limitations and cut it too close to the deadline.

This wrongful death case was somewhat more complicated than most because it dealt with an international flight and therefore international treaty guidelines. However, the issue of timely filing was at its core.

According to court records, a man with an advanced-stage, terminal lung disease boarded an international flight from California to India, with a stop in England. His condition required that he receive supplemental oxygen during the course of travel.

Prior to boarding, he advised the staff of his condition and of his need to access the supplemental supply. Staffers assured him this would not be a problem. However, during the flight, it was a different story. Staffers denied him access to his oxygen, and upon his arrival to London, he had to seek medical attention before continuing on to India. Once he arrived in Indian, he sought further medical attention. And when he returned to the U.S., he sought additional treatment. However, from the time of that first flight, his condition rapidly deteriorated and never improved. Six months after the flight, In June 2009, he died.

In March 2011, his widow and two adult children filed a lawsuit against the airline, asserting that the staff’s denial of oxygen to their loved one had accelerated his death. They sought relief under the Montreal Convention.

The defendant airline sought to have the case dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), holding that the complaint was time-barred because it wasn’t filed within the two-year statute of limitations. It was filed within two years of the man’s death, but it was not filed within two years of the flight at issue, which had taken place in late December 2008. Taking the date of the flight to be the time at which the statute of limitations clock started ticking, the wrongful death lawsuit would have been filed nearly three months too late.

The district court agreed with the defendant and dismissed the complaint. The plaintiffs appealed, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling.

The parties here did not dispute that the airline staff’s denial of the man’s oxygen was an “accident” for which the airline could have been held liable. The issue, however, was that the complaint was timely filed.

Although California law (similar to North Carolina law) stipulates that plaintiffs in wrongful death cases have two years from the date of death in which to file, the Montreal Convention states that the right to damages is lost if an action is not brought within two years of the date of arrival at the destination of the flight in question.

The plaintiffs here had a solid case. It was simply filed too late.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Narayanan v. British Airways, March 19, 2014, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Carolina Medical Malpractice Cases Must be Properly Filed, March 9, 2014, Asheville Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

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