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Widower of murdered woman waited too long to sue killer

On Dec. 19, a Court of Appeals decided that a Wisconsin man waited too long to file a wrongful death suit against his wife's convicted killer. The statute of limitations specifies that wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date when the identity of a murderer has been established within a reasonable probability. That date is up for debate in this case.

In Jan. 2013, a circuit court judge ruled that the two-year limit began on March 30, 2009, when the defendant was formally charged in the woman's murder. This interpretation made the July 2011 filing of the wrongful death lawsuit late by four months. The judge stated that the facts contained in the criminal complaint were compelling enough to constitute a reasonable conclusion that the defendant was guilty.

The woman had been murdered in 1980; however, the man who killed her was not convicted until Nov. 2010. The case had been reopened by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, which took the alleged killer into custody in March 2009. The lawsuit was filed by the woman's widower and her son in July 2010.

In the appeal, the attorney for the widower and his son argued that the two-year time frame should have begun at the time the defendant was convicted, which was Nov. 15, 2010. The attorney stated that the legal presumption of innocence that is given to any person charged with a crime should mean that until the person is convicted, there is not reasonable knowledge of that person's guilt.

This case illustrates how a judge's interpretation of a statute or law may affect the outcome of a case. A personal injury lawyer may have knowledge regarding laws and statutes that may make a crucial difference in a wrongful death case.

Source: Madison.com, "Appeals court rules widower of murdered Columbus woman waited too long to sue killer ", Shannon Green, December 20, 2013

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