Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawsuit Involving Fatal Car Accident Reveals Importance of Knowing Statutes of Limitations in Your State!
A Superior Court judge's recent decision to allow a controversial Massachusetts wrongful death lawsuit to proceed is further proof of the need to know your state's statute of limitations following a personal injury.
A recent story in the Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly detailed how 16-year-old Janessa Kirschning was killed in a high-speed chase in August of 1998. Kirschning was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Michael Canada, who was allegedly cut off by a pickup truck being operated by defendant Joseph Constantino.
When Canada began chasing the truck, Constantino allegedly slammed his breaks and maneuvered his car in a manner which caused Canada to jump a curb in order to avoid a collision. Upon jumping the curb, Canada's vehicle flipped in the air and landed upside down. Canada died at the scene of the incident while Kirschning died from her car accident injuries on arrival at a hospital.
Examining the Controversy Surrounding this Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawsuit!
At the time of their daughter's death, Valerie and Bernard Kirschning were told by police to not act independently of an ongoing criminal investigation into the crash. Police did not yet know Constantino's identity and would not truly know so until 2001.
The couple rightfully obliged and did not file a wrongful death lawsuit until May 2004, more than two years after they learned of Constantino's identity during his indictment on various criminal charges on March 4, 2002. Under Massachusetts personal injury law, a person must file a wrongful death lawsuit within three years of learning the identity of the defendant. Since the Kirschning family filed suit some two years after learning of Constantino's identity, their wrongful death lawsuit seemed to have no debate.
However, Constantino claimed that the Massachusetts personal injury statutes of limitations for this wrongful death lawsuit had already run out. Specifically, he said the family received an anonymous letter which described his vehicle and provided his license plate number in November 1999, more than a year after their daughter's death. At the time of receiving the letter, the family turned it over to police to further aid the continuing investigation.
Under Constantino's reasoning, the Massachusetts statute of limitations for wrongful death began the day the family received the letter and learned of his identity. Consequently, Constantino and his defense attorney said that the family should have filed any wrongful death claims by no later than November 2002.
However, the criminal investigation had not yet ended, in large part to the fact that Constantino had been fraudulently concealing his identity since the car accident. Police would not learn of Constantino's identity until 2001, when a passenger in his car on the day of the accident stepped forward and identified him.
Police also learned that Constantino had threatened this passenger to stay quiet. Constantino was later indicted, tried and convicted on charges of leaving the scene of an accident involving death, operating to endanger and witness intimidation.
Judge Decides That This Personal Injury Lawsuit Was Not Time-Barred!
With all of this information in mind, Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy recently ruled that this wrongful death lawsuit was not time-barred. Murphy said that even if the letter would have allowed the Kirschning family to discover Constantino's involvement in the fatal car accident, a criminal investigation was already going on.
Murphy also indicated that it would have been unreasonable for the family to file a personal injury lawsuit while a criminal investigation into the identity of the defendant was still going on. By waiting to file suit until after the criminal investigation and doing so within the statute of limitations of learning Constantino's identity, Murphy declared the Kirschning family and their 2004 personal injury lawsuit reasonable.
Ultimately, this case is a good example of how statutes of limitations often apply to various personal injury cases, and that you need to be aware of these time limits when pursing a personal injury claim. Speaking to a local personal injury attorney as soon as possible is the best way to ensure that you have a lawsuit and to make sure that you bring a claim within the acceptable amount of time.