What Happens if a Defendant Dies After a Car Accident?  Who Do You Sue and What Can You Do?

Sometimes after an accident, it’s unfortunate that the other driver in an accident may sadly pass away.  Their passing is (hopefully) unrelated to the accident.  A victim of an accident generally has some time to file a lawsuit.  Even after a lawsuit is filed, the litigation process can continue, sometimes for years.  So it happens unfortunately, that a defendant to an accident may sometimes pass away between all that time. 


What does that mean for you?  As a victim to an accident, it may not initially seem clear.  Does it mean you no longer have a claim or lawsuit?

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Thankfully, the answer is that oftentimes you are still able to continue your claim or lawsuit.  This is even after the other diver who caused the accident has died.


California Probate Code Section 550, Et Seq.

The authority allowing for the continuation of a claim or lawsuit is found in California Probate Code Section 550.  This Code section states that “an action to establish the decedent’s liability for which the decedent was protected by insurance may be commenced or continued against the decedent’s estate without the need to join as a party the decedent’s personal representative or successor in interest.”


Knowingly, that provision certainly sounds like a mouthful.  But luckily, we’re able to condense it down to much simpler terms.  What this Code states, in essence, is that a claim that is covered by insurance may still be made or continued against the deceased person – without having to bring in their representative or successor. 


How to go about doing this is then set forth in California Probate Code Section 552.  This Code states that the person making the claim or lawsuit should name as the defendant the “Estate of (name of decedent), Deceased.” 


The complaint is then served on a person designated by the insurance.  If there isn’t someone specifically named by the insurance, then the documents shall be served on the insurance itself.  (See California Probate Code Section 552: Summons shall be served on a person designated in writing by the insurer or, if none, on the insurer)



There is one very important limitation to mention however.  When making a claim or lawsuit against the decedent under the Insurance Code, your damages are limited to the insurance policy.  This limitation is noted in California Probate Code Section 554.


This limitation does not apply if the decedent’s personal representative is joined to the case, or the plaintiff files a claim in compliance with California Probate Code Section 9390.


But again, unless that happens, it is worth cautioning that your damages will be limited to whatever the insurance policy is for the case. This may bar you from later recovering against the decedent’s estate and assets if you later determine your damages exceed the insurance policy.  So that is something to keep in mind.  


As you can see, these rules are very strict and can have serious consequences for your case if these deadlines are not met.  Since this article can only cover so much, it is very important that you do not solely rely on this information. You should consult with an attorney to make sure you file your claim or lawsuit before the required deadline.


Local San Diego Car Accident Attorney

At The Nalan Law Firm, PC, we know firsthand the issues you’re dealing with after a car accident, and in having to fight against the insurance company to recover your damages.  Our lawyer is here to help with your car accident case.  If you have a question or are considering filing a car accident claim or lawsuit, please contact us to discuss with one of our experienced accident attorneys at (619) 736-0080 for a free consultation.  


Any content and information provided by this website and/or The Nalan Law Firm, PC is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for competent legal counsel.  Any exchange of information contained in this website, is not intended, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.


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