Martin v. Dematic – Wrongful Death Lawsuit to Proceed

In any civil court case, there are strict deadlines by which certain things have to be done – from filing to discovery to trial.
Courts do have some degree of discretion, but usually, if either side misses a deadline without just cause, it could mean severe repercussions, up to and including dismissal of the case or judgment favoring the other side.

One of these rules that holds fairly standard across the board is that plaintiffs have to name all defendants in a given action prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is the amount of time one has to file a claim before the opportunity is forever lost.

For example, in South Carolina, the statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim is three years from the time a claim “arises” or “accrues.” That could mean three years from the date of the actual death or it could mean three years from the date it could reasonably have been expected a plaintiff might have discovered the death was wrongful.

This is why it’s so important for Greenville wrongful death claimants to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. The sooner a lawyer can analyze the case, the better the chances of defeating any time limit challenges.

In the recent case of Martin v. Demac before the Washington Supreme Court, plaintiff knew almost right away the death at issue was likely wrongful. Her quest to have the statute of limitations tolled, however, pertained to a certain defendant, whom she claimed was not reasonably discoverable prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

According to court records, a man was killed by a machine while working at a paper plant. Although his widow was barred from filing a claim against the employer per the exclusive remedy doctrine of workers’ compensation law, she could still seek redress from the company that installed the machine. It was alleged the machine was improperly installed, and this led to the incident that resulted in her husband’s death.

The problem was, it was difficult for plaintiff to determine which company had installed the equipment because the merger/acquisition history of the machine company was especially complex.

For this reason, plaintiff filed her lawsuit against the incorrect company. It was only after the statute of limitations had passed that she learned who the alleged responsible party was.

Generally, this would have barred her claim, as any defendant would have had to have been named prior to the end of the statute of limitations period.

While the trial court and appellate court found the failure to identify the correct defendant due to inexcusable neglect, the state supreme court in a split decision reversed.

The court found the late-named defendant failed to show its identity was easily ascertainable during the limitations period, and therefore, defendant failed to prove plaintiff neglect.

Therefore, plaintiff’s claim will be allowed to proceed.

Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Martin v. Demac, Dec. 31, 2014, Washington Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Wells v. Smith – Demolition Site Injury Claims Can Be Complex, Dec. 19, 2014, Greenville Wrongful Death Lawyer Blog

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