What Happens If The Defendant Dies?

July 18, 2022

Case proceedings, including a personal injury case, are often hectic and can take years of back and forth between involved parties. Those with pending litigation hope that the case will be finally completed, but we never know what life holds in store.

So, what if the defendant dies before trial? While we can tell you that the instance would further complicate the lawsuit, what exactly happens after this? Does the case end? Does the deceased name continue to be dragged through the trial? Who stands in for the dead? Read on to find the answers to all this.

After a Defendant Dies Before Trial

When life ends unexpectedly, a lot remains pending, and we’re left to pick up the pieces. Whenever the defendant passes on in the middle of a case, the course of the case definitely changes in unanticipated ways.

Many aspects are reconsidered after the culprit’s death, one of the significant deliberations being whether the claim will still survive after one key party is no more. Usually, the plaintiff cannot pursue any claim concerning punitive damages against a deceased defendant.

Punitive damages may refer to any defendant’s behavior that harmed the plaintiff. Other allegations of pain, distress, and emotional suffering can be excused or omitted from the case. In some situations, these claims may survive; but for the most part, it’s difficult to pursue after the death of the defendant’s party.

Cases That Survive Defendant’s Death

If serious harm was done to the plaintiff, a claim might survive the defendant’s death since the plaintiff has a right to get compensated for the injuries. But how?

In place of filing the case against the defendant, the claim is re-established against the defendant’s estate. Among the cases that may survive the defendant’s death are, but not limited to, the following:

  • Fraud and deception case
  • Abuse or personal injury case
  • Certain civil rights claim
  • Spousal or child support rights 
  • Creditor’s claim

After the defendant’s death, there’s a short time frame for when a case can be re-filed against their estate. Otherwise, the plaintiff loses the right to pursue legal action against the estate. If possible, re-file your claim against the defendant’s estate sooner than later to comply with the estate’s time frame, which is usually one year.

Proceeding With Your Case After the Defendant’s Death

Most of your original case is reused once you proceed with your claim after the defendant has died. Nevertheless, some changes are prospectively needed:

  • Substitution of the deceased defendant’s name with that of their estate since the dead defendant is no longer part of the proceedings.
  • Familiarizing and complying with your state’s probate code requirements. An attorney can make it easier for you to navigate this part.
  • Complying with the code of civil procedure’s act of limits, like keeping up with the time frame, as mentioned previously.
  • Ensuring that your insurance still covers your claim.

A Reliable Attorney Can Help

Are you in litigation where the defendant has died, and you’re stuck with the complexity of re-filing your claim? The Law Offices of Max G. Arnold, Inc. can assist. Among other legal cases, we do our best in helping victims with personal injury cases. Contact us at (707) 535-1920 or visit our Chico, Redding, and Santa Rosa, California offices.

With our over 35 years of experience and detailed understanding of all legal obstacles, we shall dispute critically on your behalf until you get what you deserve.

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