Martin v. Dematic – Wrongful Death Limitations Statute Tolled

In Florida wrongful death lawsuits, as in many other types of civil torts, there is a strict statute of limitations. This is a timeline by which injured/wronged persons must initiate a lawsuit – or give up that right forever. workshop2

Florida plaintiffs have just two years from the date of death in which to file a wrongful death claim.

States vary on the exact time limit depending on circumstances, but all courts adhere very closely to these laws. There are, however, a few exceptions. They are weighed on a case-by-case basis.

This is why our West Palm Beach wrongful death lawyer will always encourage individuals to contact an experienced injury lawyer to discuss the case as soon as possible.

One such case was recently before the Washington State Supreme Court, which granted exception to a widow whose husband was killed by a machine while at work. She sought to pursue action against the company responsible for installing the machine.

The case of Martin v. Dematic was unique for a few reasons. First, this was a third-party liability case. Most work injuries and work-related deaths fall under the exclusive remedy of state workers’ compensation law. However, she was able to pursue this claim because the installer was a different entity from the employer, and thus, the claim was not barred by exclusive remedy.

Secondly, the problematic issue was properly identifying the installer of the machine.

According to court records, the worker was killed in August 2004. The statute of limitations on wrongful death claims in Washington state, where this incident occurred, is three years. Within those three years, the worker’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several defendants, including one named “General Construction Company,” which was doing business under the name Wright Schuchart Harbor. Plaintiff alleged Wright installed the machine that killed her husband, and GCC was the corporate successor of Wright.

Although plaintiff was not informed of this, GCC sought indemnity from another company, Fletcher Construction, as it had an agreement with that firm (a parent company to Wright) indicating Fletcher would be liable for any events that occurred before 1996. The machine that killed decedent was installed sometime around 1980. Thus, GCC indicated, Fletcher was the true responsible defendant.

However, GCC did not file its answer on this point until two months after the statute of limitations had run. The answer included a third-party claim against Fletcher. This was the first time plaintiff had notice that Fletcher might be potentially liable. Later, GCC filed a motion for summary judgment, essentially arguing plaintiff was suing the wrong party and that GCC was not a successor to Wright for liability purposes under the asset purchase agreement.

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding Fletcher as a defendant. Fletcher then filed a motion for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss the action based on the fact the statute of limitations had run.

Plaintiff argued the failure to meet the deadline was not the result of inexcusable neglect, and that naming GCC/Wright effectively tolled the statute of limitations under state law. Additionally, she argued her cause of action against Fletcher didn’t accrue until she became aware of its identity.

The trial court ruled against plaintiff and appellate court affirmed, but the state supreme court reversed. Specifically, the high court ruled proper defendant’s identity was not easily ascertainable by plaintiff during the statute of limitations period. Thus, her claim against Fletcher will be allowed to move forward.

If you have been injured, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Martin v. Dematic , Dec. 31, 2014, Washington Supreme Court

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