Florida Court Finds Relation-Back Doctrine Permits Injury Lawsuit Against Deceased Defendant

A Florida appellate court recently decided a case addressing whether a trial court erred in dismissing a plaintiff’s car accident lawsuit against a deceased defendant. Four years after the accident, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant in the case passed away three months before the plaintiff’s action. The lower court removed the deceased woman from the filing and substituted the woman with the personal representative of her Estate. In response, the Estate moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the court lacked jurisdiction over the action. Specifically, they argued that the action could not proceed because it named a deceased person as a defendant. Further, they asserted that the complaint could not be amended and relate back to the original filing.

Under Florida law, negligence actions must include a:

  • A cause of action in negligence;
  • Allegations of sufficient damages;
  • Sufficient factual allegations; and a
  • Demand for judgment.

The plaintiff met all of these elements in this case, and although she may have incorrectly named the late defendant, the discrepancy does not void the claim. The most relevant issue was whether it was an abuse of discretion to prohibit the plaintiff from filing an amended complaint with the substituted defendant and relating it back to the original action.

Florida Rules of Civil Procedure 1.260(a)(1) governs substitution after the death of a party. Typically, if a claim survives a party’s death, either party may make a motion for substantiation, and the court may order the substitution of a party. Under Florida law, courts should liberally construe the rule concerning pleading amendments and the relation-back doctrine. The relation-back doctrine allows pleading amendments to relate back to the original complaint, even if the statute of limitations has run out in the meantime. In this case, the plaintiff’s amendment did not change the substance of her complaint except to substitute the personal representative for the deceased defendant. It involves the same incident between the same persons on the same date and the exact cause of action in the same court. The appellate court found that the Estate cannot plausibly claim that the amended complaint would prejudice them. As such, the court reversed the lower court’s ruling and instructed the court to grant the plaintiff’s motion to amend.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Florida Car Accident

If you or someone you love recently suffered injuries in a Florida auto accident, contact the respected personal injury lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada. The attorneys at our office have extensive experience handling a wide range of Florida accident cases. We have an in-depth understanding of the complicated procedural and evidentiary laws that surround these cases. As a result, our attorneys have secured significant amounts of compensation on behalf of our many clients. The firm handles many personal injury and wrongful death matters stemming from Florida car and truck accidents, defective products, slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls, medical malpractice, and more. Contact our office at 877-448-8585 to discuss your rights and remedies after any type of Florida accident.


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