Can You Still Get Compensation If the At-Fault Party Dies?

by Staff | March 8th, 2021

After an accident or injury that wasn’t your fault, you can file a compensation claim against the person whose negligence caused you to get hurt. But what happens if that person passes away, either as a result of the accident, before you decide to file a lawsuit, or after your claim has started but before you’ve received a check?

Although it’s morbid to think about, this isn’t an unheard-of scenario. In fact, nearly 3 million people die annually in the U.S., so this situation comes up fairly often—particularly after accidents where both the plaintiffs and the defendants may have been injured, such as car and truck accidents.

Regardless of the cause of death or when during the claims process that they pass away, it IS possible to still get compensation if the defendant dies before your settlement is finalized. However, their time of death does impact how your case will unfold.

If the Defendant Dies Before You File a Lawsuit

If the at-fault party dies before you get a chance to take legal action, you would instead need to file a claim against their estate and its executor or personal representative. However, the amount of money that you may be entitled to receive could change, especially if other people or parties have claims to it via a will, trust, or outstanding debts.

If the Defendant Dies During the Case

If you’ve already started legal proceedings against the at-fault party and they pass away, your claim would proceed just as it would if they passed away pre-litigation. That means your claim would instead transfer to their estate. However, the details and proceedings of your case may change dramatically.

That’s because the deceased can no longer make statements to the insurance company, their lawyer, or via testimony and courtroom depositions if the case goes to trial. In other words, any statements they made before passing away are the only statements that can be used in their defense, and they can no longer present their side or story of what happened.

Punitive Damages Are Ruled Out When Defendants Die

Although both economic (medical bills, lost wages, etc.)and non-economic damages (pain and suffering) can still be pursued by victims if at-fault parties die, punitive damages cannot. That’s because punitive damages are designed to punish negligent parties, and if they pass away, there’s no one left to punish for the misdeeds that caused the injury.

What if You or Your Loved One Die While Pursuing Compensation?

On the other hand, plaintiffs may also pass away, whether it’s before they’ve had a chance to take legal action or while their claims are in progress. When that happens, it’s similar to when the defendant passes away, as responsibility then falls to the executor or personal representative of their estate.

However, if the potential plaintiff passes away as a result of their injuries, the legal action against the at-fault party can change to a wrongful death claim rather than a personal injury claim.

Having a Lawyer Can Help You Get the Best Possible Outcome

Dealing with insurance companies and the legal system is complex, even for seemingly straightforward personal injury cases. In addition, there’s always a chance that an unforeseen event will throw a wrench into even the best laid plans, including the death of the at-fault party.

That’s why it’s important to have an experienced Indiana personal injury lawyer on your side from the get-go. At Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin, our legal team will ensure that your chances of getting compensation are maximized every step of the way, regardless of what happens before you take legal action and even mid-case. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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