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What Happens To A Lawsuit When A Defendant Passes Away?


When a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit passes away, the dynamics and potential outcomes of the case can undergo some significant changes. The proceedings don’t automatically end but they will likely become more complicated. Understanding the impacts of such an event is vital for any plaintiff pursuing compensation through litigation.

Immediate Impact on the Lawsuit – Automatic Stay

When a defendant passes away, the legal consequences are often immediate. The progression of a lawsuit comes to a temporary halt upon a defendant’s passing. It’s an automatic response as new variables enter the legal equation. For the plaintiff, this can prompt an unexpected pause in the pursuit of justice and financial reparation.

The automatic stay is a procedural tool that acknowledges the need to reconfigure the parties involved, often leading to a brief lull in activity as the court and attorneys for both sides adjust their strategy.

During the stay, the defendant’s family must complete the probate process in court before proceedings can continue.

Legal Procedures Following the Defendant’s Death

When a defendant passes away, the legal system follows a predetermined set of steps to reincorporate the estate or representative of the deceased into the lawsuit. Here’s what typically happens:

Estate Involvement: The New Defendant

In the wake of a defendant’s death, their estate steps in, assuming the role the deceased played in the lawsuit. The estate, now the new legal entity defending the case, may consist of financial assets and possessions that can be used to resolve the legal claims brought against it.

It’s important for the plaintiff to identify and involve the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate as soon as possible, as they now hold the reins to the defendant’s legal affairs.

Substitution of Parties: Keeping the Lawsuit Alive

The next move is the substitution of parties, a formal request to the court to replace the deceased defendant with their estate or legal representative. This process ensures that the lawsuit can continue without significant procedural interruptions due to the absence of the defendant.

Impact on Settlements and Judgments

Settlement discussions may continue, albeit with the new legal representatives of the defendant’s estate. The terms, however, could shift significantly. It’s not uncommon for plaintiffs to revisit the negotiation process, especially considering that the estate’s priorities and willingness to settle may differ from those of the original defendant.

An experienced attorney can guide plaintiffs through the adjustments required for these new dynamics, ensuring that any settlement reached is still in their best interest.

A Personal Injury Lawyer’s Role In a Lawsuit When the Defendant Passes Away

A personal injury lawyer holds many responsibilities in a lawsuit affected by a defendant’s passing. They must manage the logistics of estate involvement, participate in the substitution of parties, and conduct negotiations with the new defendant’s estate representatives. Beyond these administrative roles, a lawyer provides emotional support and strategic counsel to their client.

Navigating the aftermath of a defendant’s death requires not just legal expertise but also sensitivity and adaptability. A White Plains personal injury lawyer’s role evolves to meet these challenges, ensuring that their client’s case progresses smoothly towards a resolution that honors their pursuit of justice and compensation.

If you need help, contact us today to schedule a free consultation.