Last September, the boating accident of Miami Marlin’s pitcher Jose Fernandez gained national attention not only as a tragic and sudden end to the young pitcher’s life and promising career, but also because his estate was named as the defendant in two negligence and personal injury lawsuits by the families of the two other men who also tragically passed away in the accident.
The legal system allows victims injured in a personal injury accident to file a lawsuit against the person responsible for those injuries in order to recover damages.
But what happens if the person responsible is deceased?
It’s a frequently asked – albeit delicate – question that thankfully has a fairly simple answer: If the responsible party is deceased, you may pursue compensation for your injuries by suing their estate. That said, while the answer is simple, the ensuing lawsuit can prove complicated and time-consuming.
And surprisingly, occurrences of filing a lawsuit against an estate are actually fairly common. For context, think of any accident involving two vehicles. One vehicle is going the speed limit while approaching an intersection where they have a green light. That vehicle is then broadsided by a second vehicle that runs the red light from the opposite direction – and the driver of the vehicle that ran the red light doesn’t survive.
In this tragic scenario, the surviving driver may then need to seek compensation from the deceased driver’s estate.
Generally speaking, filing a lawsuit against an estate is relatively similar to filing any other lawsuit however there are some procedures that change – and failing to adhere to the procedures involved in filing a claim against an estate can cost you any chance of recovery.
Here are a few points to consider:
The Estate: An estate can be sued for damages incurred as a result of the negligent actions of the decedent. When a person dies, their assets and debts become part of probate, wherein everything owned by the decedent will be inventoried, valued and all debts of the estate paid before what remains is transferred to its beneficiaries or heirs. And the victim of a personal injury accident is considered a potential debt – or creditor – of the decedent’s estate.
Your Claim: When the defendant is alive, a victim has up to the day the statute of limitations expires to file a lawsuit for damages. When the defendant is deceased, however, you may have less time to file your claim. This is due to the fact a victim must file a timely claim with the estate through the probate court to preserve their right to compensation.
The Process: Once you have filed a claim with an estate, a decision will need to be made that the decedent was negligent – and that you are entitled to compensation for that negligence. In some cases, the decedent has insurance that can compensate victims if negligence is proven. If there is no insurance, or if your damages are determined to exceed the amount of insurance coverage available, then assets from the estate may be available. The probate court will then weigh all of the creditor claims filed against the decedent’s estate, with some claims granted a higher priority than others. If there are not enough assets in the estate to pay all of the creditors, your attorney will then make every effort to get you as much as possible – though it may not be the full amount to which you are legally entitled.
If you have been injured in an accident and are considering pursuing compensation through the estate of the decedent, contact Tampa attorney John Castro today for an experienced personal injury attorney dedicated to Representing Your Best Interests.