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Wrongful death claims and the “discovery rule”

According to Ohio laws, the time limit for filing a wrongful death claim, other than those claims that arise out of a faulty or dangerous product, is two years from the date of the victim’s death. However, for cases in which those two years have passed, there remains a possibility to file a wrongful death claim by invoking what is known as the “discovery rule.” Under this rule, a wrongful death claim can be filed within two years of the date on which the “discovery” is made that the victim’s death was wrongful.

To understand this, let’s consider a lawsuit related to a fatal workplace accident that occurred at an aluminum extrusion plant about three hours northeast of Columbus. In 2012, a 21-year-old worker at that plant was killed after he was pinned to a rack that was holding two tons of hot aluminum. The accident also injured a 19-year-old co-worker. An OSHA investigation held two managers accountable for the accident; a general manager of the plant and a human resource manager who was also the safety coordinator. Both were indicted and it is now expected that they will plead guilty in an upcoming hearing.

According to news reports, a few months before the fatal accident, an employee at the plant had sent emails to the managers and other employees, expressing concerns about the racks and rollers at the aluminum plant. However, OSHA investigators found that the two managers ignored the concerns and instead they persuaded employees to draft emails that nullify the complaints against the racks and rollers, by suggesting that their jobs might be in jeopardy if they did not comply. In addition, the two managers provided false statements to OSHA regarding the safety issues with the racks and rollers system.

While it is still unknown what the outcome of this particular hearing might be, this case is an example of a situation in which a wrongful death claim could be filed based on the discovery rule. In this case, the discovery of the manager’s negligence and offenses would potentially allow the victim’s surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim within two years of the discovery of the cause of action, provided the managers plead guilty in court or if they are convicted of the various charges filed against them during the course of the hearing.

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