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Who Do You Sue For Personal Injury If The Defendant Dies?

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When you or a loved one is injured by the actions of another person, a lawsuit is sometimes the only way to get compensation and start moving forward. However, what if the at-fault party passes away as a result of the accident? What if they die from unrelated causes before your lawsuit is completed? What can and should you do now? The answer may be to sue their estate. Here's what you need to know about doing so.

Why Sue the Estate? 

You cannot sue a deceased person. They cease to exist as a legal entity. In addition, they are not able to defend themselves against legal complaints or charges. However, all is not lost. You can sue their estate instead. 

The estate is composed of the person's assets (minus debts and other obligations) as they stand on the date of the death. An executor or personal representative is assigned to manage the estate and distribute it to the appropriate heirs. However, they must first satisfy those debts and obligations—including a judgment for personal injury liability. 

How Do You Sue an Estate?

For the most part, suing an estate is the same as suing the individual who owned it. However, the legal complaint is made against the estate and the role of a personal representative instead of the deceased person.

The personal representative is obliged to defend the estate, or they may choose to settle the case if that's in the best interests of the estate. If the case goes to trial, the defendant generally has the same rights and responsibilities as the deceased would have in the same trial. If you win damages, you will submit them as a creditor claim against the estate's assets. 

Why Is This More Complicated?

Deciding to sue an estate can be more complex than suing the person who injured you. There is an additional emotional component if the person lost their life in the accident or if the surviving family is grieving. It's important to remember that their passing doesn't mean you don't need the same compensation, though. Your injuries aren't lessened by their death. 

The personal injury case itself may be different too. It follows probate rules as well as personal injury law rules. It may also be adjudicated through probate court, which handles estate matters. The statute of limitations to start a lawsuit, for example, may be shorter because you must submit a claim against the estate within the time frame determined by probate. 

Where Can You Start?

Does this sound somewhat daunting to consider? Contact a local personal injury lawyer to learn more.