Personal Injury Law 101: Suing a Deceased Person’s Estate
Can you sue a person who is dead? Read this article to learn how to handle personal injury cases against deceased defendants.
In a typical personal injury case, the injured party introduces a claim against a person responsible for the injuries in order to obtain financial compensation for the physical damage and any expenses related to it. However, what happens if the party liable for the injuries dies before such a claim can even be filed? For example, consider a situation in which a drunk driver causes a collision with another vehicle. The passengers of the vehicle survive but suffer devastating injuries that require costly medical treatment and rehabilitation. The drunk driver, however, dies as a result of the injuries they sustained. In this scenario, would the injured passengers ever be able to recover the damages for their injuries and the related financial losses? On the other hand, let’s imagine another scenario in which one party introduces a personal injury claim against another person who later dies in circumstances unrelated to the claim. In this case, can the injured party still pursue a claim against someone who is now deceased?
While a personal injury claim or lawsuit cannot be introduced against a deceased person, the injured party can still try to recover the damages for their injuries by filing a claim against the deceased person’s estate. However, all such claims must be introduced in accordance with the rules governing the probate process. In this article, we will briefly describe how the laws of probate affect personal injury claims in New Mexico.
What Is Probate and How It Affects Your PI Claim
Probate is a legal procedure supervised by a court during which a deceased person’s estate – their property, assets, and other personal belongings – is distributed among their heirs and other beneficiaries. If the person left a last will and testament, such a distribution is guided by the person’s wishes stated therein. In case no valid will can be found, probate proceeds according to the succession of laws of a given state. A person who manages the distribution of the estate is called the estate executor or personal representative.
Before a deceased person’s property and assets can be transferred to his or her heirs and other beneficiaries of the will, the executor must make sure that all pending creditor’s claims in the estate are settled. According to the New Mexico Uniform Probate Code, such claims may include “all claims founded on tort” or, in other words, personal injury claims “that arose before the death of the decedent”.
However, it is important to note there’s a statute of limitations that applies in such cases. A statute of limitations describes a period of time within which an injured person must file their personal injury claim before it becomes invalid. In New Mexico, generally, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is 3 years. Nevertheless, someone that was injured by a now-deceased person and would like to introduce a personal injury claim against that person’s estate has only 1 year to do so. Otherwise, such a claim will be automatically barred.
Admittedly, filing a claim against a deceased person’s estate through probate is usually even more complex than standard personal injury proceedings. An injured person who is facing this complicated issue would be wise to consult a personal injury attorney who is experienced in introducing and defending injury claims against estates. It is important to note that, due to a shorter statute of limitations, such professional guidance should be obtained as soon as the claim has arisen.