How Long Do You Have to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit If the Defendant Dies?
California law normally imposes a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims. For example, say you were injured in a car accident that took place on May 1, 2022. Under the statute of limitations, your deadline to sue the negligent driver would be May 1, 2024. If you file your lawsuit even one day past that deadline, the court may be required to dismiss your lawsuit without considering the merits.
But as with many legal rules there are exceptions. Let’s say the negligent driver who caused your accident died as a result of their injuries. In that case, California law requires you to file your lawsuit against their estate within one year of the date of death. This assumes, of course, the defendant died before the normal two-year statute of limitations expired.
Probate Code Exception Revives Parents’ Lawsuit Against Negligent Driver’s Estate
There is, however, a further exception to this exception. A recent decision from the California Second District Court of Appeal, Allen v. Estate of Gomez, provides a real-world case to help explain. This case involved a multi-car accident that occurred on June 11, 2018. The driver who allegedly caused the accident, Gomez, died at the scene, as did a passenger in her car at the time.
The passenger’s parents subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit on May 7, 2020, against both Gomez’s estate and her auto insurance carrier. The estate moved to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging it was filed more than one year after Gomez died. In response, the plaintiffs alleged that a provision of the California Probate Code allowed them to pursue their claim against the insurance company for the limits of Gomez’s policy. Such claims could be filed up to one year after the expiration of the normal statute of limitations deadline.
Although the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, the Second District reversed. It agreed with the plaintiffs that the Probate Code exception applied. As the appellate court explained, the exception is limited. The plaintiffs can only seek compensation up to the limits of Gomez’s auto insurance policy, which was $15,000. They cannot seek any damages beyond that from the Gomez estate. Such claims are still barred by the one-year statute of limitations.
Contact a Palmdale Wrongful Death Attorney Today
Identifying and complying with the relevant statute of limitations is often a more complicated process that many personal injury victims realize. This is why it is so important to speak with a qualified Palmdale personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident. The quicker you engage an attorney, the more time they will have to properly investigate your case and take the necessary legal action to preserve your right to seek appropriate compensation. Any delay in seeking counsel can make it difficult–if not legally impossible–to file a claim.
So if you have been injured in an accident, or you have recently lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, please do not hesitate to contact the Trevino Law Firm and schedule a free consultation. We serve clients in Palmdale, Lancaster, Littlerock, and Lake Los Angeles.