How to Sue the Estate of a Deceased Person in Pennsylvania
After being injured in an accident, you might discover that the person who hurt you has passed away. How do you get compensation from someone who is no longer here? An attorney can help you sue their estate for your damages.
It is not possible to file a lawsuit against someone who has passed away. Doing so will only end in frustration. Instead, your lawyer can help you sue the estate of the person you believe is responsible for your injuries and damages. Depending on when the defendant died, you might have time beyond the normal statute of limitations to file your case. Typically, plaintiffs have 1 year from the date of the defendant’s death to file a case. If you discover that the defendant in your case has passed away, talk to your lawyer immediately, as the process of suing their estate might be time-consuming. While suing a deceased defendant is not an extremely common problem, it comes up more often than people realize. Speak to your lawyer immediately if the defendant in your case has passed away.
Ask our Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers for a confidential, free assessment of your case by calling The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940.
Can I Sue Someone Who Has Passed Away in Pennsylvania?
Death is a natural part of life. For many, the death of a loved one can be emotionally very difficult to get through. Death can be challenging for other reasons, too. If you were injured in an accident caused by another person, but that person passes away before you can sue them for damages, you might have trouble getting fair compensation. Without anyone to sue, you might be left with high damages and no way to cover the costs. This begs the question, can you sue a dead person?
The answer to this question is no. Once someone passes away, they cannot be sued. They are no longer here to be held liable or defend themselves in court. However, your legal claims do not simply disappear. According to 42 Pa.C.S. § 8302, all causes of action may survive the death of a plaintiff or defendant. This means your personal injury or other claims do not die with the defendant.
Instead of suing the defendant directly, our personal injury attorneys can help you sue their estate. This can sometimes be tricky if the defendant passes away and you do not find out until some time later. Instead of suing the defendant, you can sue the personal representative of their estate. If you win, your damages may be covered by the estate.
When Do I Have to File a Lawsuit Against a Deceased Defendant in Pennsylvania?
There are a few deadlines to consider when you are suing the estate of a deceased defendant. First, there is the normal statute of limitations for your claims. If you have a personal injury claim, you must file your case according to the personal injury statute of limitation under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(2). This law holds that personal injury claims must be filed with the court no later than 2 years after the date of the injury.
The deadline to file your case might change depending on when the defendant passed away. According to 42 Pa.C.S. § 3383, if the defendant passed away within a year of the normal statute of limitations, your deadline to file is extended to 1 year from the date of the defendant’s passing. This may extend your deadline somewhat beyond the original 2-year time limit.
For example, suppose you were injured in an accident on June 1, 2023. Under the normal statute of limitation, you would have until June 1, 2025 to file your personal injury lawsuit. Suppose the defendant died 18 months after the accident on December 1, 2024. Your deadline to sue the defendant’s estate would be extended by 1 year from this date, until December 1, 2025. This way, you effectively have 6 months longer to file your claims.
What Do I Do if I Find Out the Person I Want to Sue Has Died in Pennsylvania?
If you discover the person you planned on suing has passed away, tell your lawyer immediately. To file your case, you need to sue the estate. Depending on how the deceased defendant left their affairs, there may or may not already be an existing estate and personal representative. If there is not, you might have to work with the court to open an estate and name a personal representative. Heirs of the deceased defendant must also be notified and involved.
You and your lawyer may need to file a petition with the court to open an estate and appoint a personal representative. The court may then notify the heirs of the estate. It can take a month or more before the petition is decided and the estate is opened.
Is The Death of Defendants a Common Problem in Pennsylvania Civil Cases?
While death is certainly common – it happens to everyone, after all – lawsuits involving deceased defendants are not exactly an everyday occurrence. Most people who file civil lawsuits probably do not have to deal with the sudden death of one of the parties. However, some do, and you need to talk to your attorney and be prepared, just in case.
This kind of thing is a bigger problem when the defendant is older or in poor health. For example, if you were in a car accident where the negligent driver was in their eighties and really should not have been driving, you should talk to your lawyer about what to do if the defendant suddenly passes away. Similarly, if the defendant is sick and not expected to recover, you should talk to a lawyer about what to do if tragedy strikes.
Contact Our Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys if the Person Who Hurt You Has Died
Ask our Allentown personal injury lawyers for a confidential, free assessment of your case by calling The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 709-6940.