What Happens If Someone Dies While They Have a Lawsuit Pending?

Daughter crying due to death of her father.

When someone is injured due to another party’s negligence, they have the right to hold the negligent party accountable by filing a personal injury claim. If their claim is successful, the injured person can recover money for any personal or financial losses they suffered at the other party’s hands.

Unfortunately, sometimes a plaintiff (the person bringing the case) or a defendant (the person the claim is brought against) dies while a lawsuit is pending. When this occurs, the status of the existing claim can get complicated quickly.

Indiana has specific laws on the books that allow survivors to file a claim on behalf of an injury victim who passes away. However, many restrictions apply to these special cases, which are known as “survival actions” and “wrongful death claims.”

A survival action is a legal process that allows another person to begin or continue an injury claim on behalf of a deceased victim. When someone files a survival action, they essentially act as a substitute for the deceased, and any money they recover will go to the deceased person’s estate.

In contrast, a wrongful death claim allows certain eligible survivors to seek compensation for the losses they incur as a result of their loved one’s death. These losses include medical costs, funeral expenses, and burial expenses. If your loved one died with a lawsuit pending, a wrongful death attorney at Truitt Law Offices can explain your legal options. Contact us today for a free case consultation.

Does My Injury Claim End If the At-Fault Person Passes Away?

So, what happens if an at-fault party dies before you have time to resolve a personal injury claim against them? After all, the deceased person is still legally responsible for the injuries and other losses you suffered.

The good news is that it’s still possible to seek compensation. However, doing so will involve a few more steps. This is because you will effectively be seeking compensation from the deceased person’s estate. To get money from an estate, the estate must first go through a process known as “probate.”

During probate, the probate court reviews a deceased person’s estate to determine how their creditors will be repaid and how their assets will be distributed. When you pursue a claim against someone’s estate, you effectively become a creditor. This means you will need to wait for the deceased’s family to complete the probate process before you can claim money from the estate.

What If I Die Before My Case Is Resolved?

If you have grounds for a personal injury claim, such as a car accident insurance claim, what happens if you pass away before the case is settled? In most cases, the right to proceed with your claim will pass to your estate. When this happens, the personal representative who administers your estate will be able to file and settle the claim on your behalf.  Any compensation they secure will go to your estate. In other cases, your heirs will have the right to bring a claim.

What Happens When a Plaintiff Dies Before Settlement in a Civil Lawsuit?

When someone files a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury lawsuit, they are known as the “plaintiff.” If the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit dies before the case is settled, the court will usually put the lawsuit on a temporary hold.

This temporary pause is intended to give the probate court the time it needs to appoint a personal representative for the deceased plaintiff’s estate. As soon as a personal representative is appointed, the representative can continue with the civil lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiff’s estate.

What If the Plaintiff Dies for Reasons Unrelated to the Personal Injury Case?

Suppose a plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault party and then dies for reasons unrelated to their case. For instance, perhaps someone files a slip and fall lawsuit and then dies in a car accident soon after. What happens to their slip-and-fall lawsuit?

In this case, that person’s surviving family members would have grounds for a survival action on behalf of the deceased. If successful, they could recover compensation for losses incurred up to the plaintiff’s death. However, the estate would not have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit in this case.

Wife mourning on his husband's death.

What If the Plaintiff Dies as a Result of the Defendant’s Wrongful Conduct?

Things are handled differently if a plaintiff dies as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence or wrongful conduct. For example, the plaintiff may have been injured in a car accident, went into a coma, and died two weeks later. When this occurs, the defendant can be held liable for both the injuries they caused the plaintiff as well as the losses the plaintiff’s family members incurred due to their loved one’s death.

This means the plaintiff’s surviving loved ones may have grounds for both a survival action and a wrongful death lawsuit. Any money obtained from a survival action would act as compensation for losses the plaintiff suffered before they died, and the money from a wrongful death lawsuit would serve as compensation for the survivors’ losses.

What Happens When a Defendant Dies Before Settlement in a Civil Lawsuit?

The defendant is the person who is being sued by a plaintiff. If the defendant in a civil lawsuit dies before the case is settled, the court will place a temporary hold on the lawsuit just like it would if the plaintiff died.

During this temporary hold, surviving family members of the deceased defendant must complete the process of probate in court. Once a personal representative is appointed to administer the defendant’s estate, the plaintiff can proceed with a lawsuit against the estate.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney in Indiana Today

If your loved one recently passed away and left behind a pending lawsuit, it can be difficult to know how to proceed, especially while you’re still grieving. The Indiana personal injury lawyers at Truitt Law Offices are here to help. For more than 40 years, we’ve stood up for the rights of injured parties and their families. Contact our compassionate team today to learn more about your legal options in a free initial consultation.

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About the Author

As an attorney who has practiced law in Northeast Indiana for nearly four decades, Richard Truitt has seen many changes in the way personal injury and wrongful death cases are handled. However, at least one aspect of his work has remained the same. “You always have to listen to your clients, and you have…