Can You Sue For Wrongful Death When The Defendant Dies?

Posted on: 8 November 2019


Wrongful death claims can arise from all kinds of circumstances, but car accidents and medical malpractice are two of the most common causes of premature death. When the grieving survivors file a wrongful death claim over the loss of their loved one, however, the case can get complicated by the defendant's death. 

Defendants in wrongful death claims die all the time — sometimes from natural causes and sometimes from the same accident that claimed the life of their victim. You particularly see this when the defendant caused a wrong-way accident, was driving while intoxicated, or something similar. The defendant's death does not, however, necessarily end your case.

Continuing the Case Against the Insurance Company

Many times, the defendant's death poses a slight wrinkle in the process of obtaining compensation simply because he or she is no longer around to depose or give any testimony. You have to rely on whatever evidence you have that already exists, whether that's the defendant's statements prior to death or physical evidence.

In wrongful death claims tied to car accidents and medical malpractice, the defendant's insurer is usually the entity that will pay for your losses if your claim is successful — as long as the defendant was insured at the time of the incident.

Suing the Defendant's Estate

Another option you may have when the defendant dies is to sue his or her estate. This is usually what plaintiffs do when their injuries are extensive and the damages exceed the limits of the defendant's insurance policy — or the defendant didn't have insurance. For example, a habitual drunk driver may have been driving without car insurance because he or she didn't even have a license, but he or she may have life insurance, property, and other assets in his or her estate that can be claimed.

One thing that's important to keep in mind is that pressing a wrongful death claim against someone's estate has to be done quickly. Otherwise, it may be nearly impossible to recover any estate assets that were already dispersed. When a claim is filed, a "freeze" goes into effect that prevents the assets from being dispersed until the lawsuit is settled.

Looking for Other Responsible Parties

Depending on the situation, your wrongful death lawyer may also investigate the possibility of claims against other responsible parties. For example, if the wrongful death was caused by a medical error, the hospital where the defendant worked might bear some liability. Similarly, a bar that over-served a drunk driver who caused a wreck could also be a potential defendant.

If you're contemplating a lawsuit over your loved one's untimely death, talk to a wrongful death lawyer without delay.