How long do I have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Virginia?

If another person’s negligence caused your loved one’s death, you could be entitled to financial compensation under Virginia state law. While many people are reluctant to file a wrongful death lawsuit, any compensation you obtain could be used to cover your relative’s funeral costs, burial expenses, and unpaid medical bills. However, Virginia has a strict statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. If you wait too long to file, your case could be automatically dismissed by a court, forcing your family to bear both the financial and emotional burden of someone else’s terrible mistake. Wrongful death statute of limitations

The Virginia Statute of Limitations 

A statute of limitations is a special law that restricts how long a person or entity can wait to take a specific legal action. Every state has these statutes, and Virginia has them for both civil and criminal cases, including wrongful death claims. In Virginia, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is usually two years from the date of death.

If you wait more than two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the court will likely dismiss your case. Even if a judge is willing to hear it, the negligent party’s attorney will point out that you filed past the statute of limitations, making you ineligible to recover damages.

Exceptions to Virginia’s Statute of Limitations

Virginia courts rarely grant exceptions to the statute of limitations in wrongful death claims. However, you may be able to obtain an extension under exceptional circumstances. A judge could waive or extend the statute of limitations if:

  • A family did not discover the death for days, weeks, or months. If so, they will have two years from the date of discovery of death to file a claim.
  • A surviving child was under 18 at the time of their parent’s death. Once the surviving child turns 18, they have an additional two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit, even if the statute of limitations has already passed.

If a case is highly unusual, a judge might allow for another type of exception. However, the vast majority of claims are subject to Virginia’s two-year statute of limitations.

Making Sure You Don’t Miss the Cutoff

Unless you have an exceptional case, you must file your wrongful death claim within the state’s two-year statute of limitations, and it’s important to file as soon as possible. Waiting too long could still jeopardize your claim. This is because:

  • Critical evidence could get lost, go missing, or get destroyed.
  • Law enforcement reports might get misplaced.
  • Eyewitnesses’ memories may fade.
  • A defendant could move out of state or re-title their assets to shield themselves from legal action.

Get the Right Help in Your Wrongful Death Claim

Proving wrongful death can be difficult, even when you have a seemingly open-and-shut claim. The court will still require that you demonstrate, with compelling evidence:

  • That you have legal standing to file a wrongful death claim 
  • Why the at-fault party had a legal duty to protect your loved one
  • How the at-fault party’s negligence cost your relative their life
  • How the at-fault party’s negligence caused you to suffer or sustain significant financial, emotional, or physical damages that are recoverable in court

While you are collecting evidence to support your claim, you will also be responsible for meeting other court deadlines and filing rules. If the at-fault party has an attorney, they could bury you in paperwork requests or make the process unnecessarily complicated.

Contact Us

When you lose a loved to another person’s negligence, you deserve your best chance at recovery. Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC have years of experience fighting for the rights of our Virginia clients. We know what insurance companies, judges, and juries need to award damages for wrongful death. We have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in damages—money they and their families can use to pay off unforeseen costs and build back their lives. Please send us a message online to find out how we could help you.


Michael Joshi
Personal Injury Attorney Serving Northern Virginia, Fairfax, and Prince William County