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Wisconsin ruling extends 'clock' on wrongful death suits

Would your family receive fair compensation if you died because of chemical exposure at work? A new judgment out of the Wisconsin Supreme Court might increase those odds. Thanks to a wrongful death claim that was decided in late June, a clarification has been issued about the statute of limitations in such cases. Now, more Wisconsin residents could have access to legal redress in the event of a fatal accident at work or other occupational incident.

In this case, family members sued six different defendants associated with a tire plant in Eau Claire. The victims' relatives claimed that they had to suffer through the loss of a loved one because their family members were exposed to benzene, a dangerous and carcinogenic chemical. The companies had attempted to thwart the wrongful death suits by claiming that the statute of limitations had expired in each of the cases. However, the state's highest court determined that the three-year statute of limitations does not begin until a victim's estate determines the actual cause of death. The victims in this situation all died between 1995 and 2003, which would normally cause the cases to be thrown out because they were too old.

In this situation, family members were not immediately aware that their relatives may have been fatally injured by exposure to benzene. The companies had been arguing that the statute of limitations began when the victims died. Now, though, the clarification by the state Supreme Court allows the proverbial clock to start ticking when the victims' estate identifies the true cause of death. This means that relatives are not unfairly constrained and may sue defendants within the three-year period after the cause of death is identified or confirmed.

This decision will provide significant benefit for those who have had to endure pain and suffering because of the loss of a loved one. Now, relatives have the opportunity to seek legal redress even if the victims' cause of death was not immediately deemed to be work-related. An entirely new population of plaintiffs may be able to seek financial compensation for defendants' negligence thanks to this progressive ruling.

Source: Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Supreme Court rules for estates of former tire factory workers," Bruce Vielmetti, June 23, 2015

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