When you're injured by someone, you have the right to sue the person for compensation for your losses and expenses. What happens, though, if the liable party dies? You can still pursue your claim against the individual, but here are a few important factors you need to take into consideration to help you better manage your case.
You Have Limited Time to File a Case
The amount of time you have to file your case is typically shortened when a potential defendant in your claim dies. Typically, you have until the end of the statute of limitations in your state to launch a personal injury case. For instance, California gives plaintiffs two years to sue for damages.
However, when a person dies, their estate must be settled quickly so liabilities can be paid and assets distributed to heirs and beneficiaries. This means the window for filing a lawsuit becomes significantly smaller. How much smaller depends on whether anyone knows about the potential lawsuit.
If the administrator or estate executor knows you and the deceased had an interaction that would lead to a court case, he or she is typically required to notify you about the person's death as well as the deadline for filing a claim against the estate. This deadline is usually one to two months after the person dies, but the exact limit varies from state to state. For instance, creditors have nine months after notification to file a claim against an estate in New Jersey.
On the other hand, if no one knows about your potential claim, you need to tell the executor immediately and file a claim as soon as possible, especially if the estate is not expected to go through probate. Otherwise, the executor will resolve the estate and distribute assets to heirs and beneficiaries, leaving you with nothing to lay claim to.
You May End Up Getting Less Money
When a person dies, you may be limited to receiving what the estate can bear to pay. For instance, if you're awarded $100,000 but the person's assets are only worth $50,000, the maximum you can get is $50k minus any money or property that may be exempt from the lawsuit. Since the decedent is not living anymore and anything he or she owns will pass on to heirs, there's little opportunity to obtain any more money, so you may have to settle for what you can get.
Additionally, the law will typically bar you from obtaining certain types of damages. You won't be awarded punitive damages, for instance, because this award is typically levied against the defendant to prevent him or her from engaging in the same behavior in the future. Since the person died, there's no need to institute this punishment against him or her.
Heirs and Beneficiaries Can't Be Sued
Since the decedent's heirs and beneficiaries are inheriting their assets, many people think they can just sue those people for the money owed to them. However, heirs are protected by state laws absolving them of responsibility for debts incurred by their deceased loved ones. Therefore, if you don't file your lawsuit against the estate in time, you won't be able to sue at all.
One exception is if an heir interferes with your ability to exercise your right to sue in some way. If the person dodges the service of lawsuit papers, for instance, you may be able to sue them for your losses caused by the person's bad behavior. This would count as a separate lawsuit from your original claim, for instance, so the amount of money you would recover would vary significantly from what you may be expecting.
Suing a deceased person is often complicated. It's best to consult with an attorney, such as Jack W Hanemann, P.S., for advice and assistance with your case.