People often ask what happens if the plaintiff party, in a medical malpractice or personal injury case, succumbs to his or her injuries and passes away when that case is pending. Their doubt pertains to two things: Does the plaintiff’s demise make the previous action to be amended or a new one to be filed, and more significantly does it have an effect on the damages which can be recovered?
Wrongful death lawyers say there are several variables to this intricate matter, and that they can only give an overview in response to this frequently asked question.
If a person gets injured and later dies from those injuries, then this leads to an extremely technical application of the law. Let us discuss two scenarios: survival actions as well as wrongful death. Both or either might just pertain in any given legal case.
Firstly, under Code Civ. Proc. Section 377.20, a cause of action against or for an individual is not lost on grounds for his or her demise, but it survives subject to California’s statute of limitations. These are known as “survival actions”. The Section 377.30 of California Code of Civil Procedure states a cause of action which survives the demise of the individual passes on to the successor in interest of the decedent, (subject to California Probate Code) who might just bring the cause of action or continue it.
So if one had the right to bring a case prior to the demise, then it passes on to his or her heirs or estate. This is akin to the right of a party to collect money owed to the deceased person, where the estate or heirs would be eligible by law to get payment on that particular debt. Similarly, if the deceased owed a debt, then creditors could look to get back the amount from the estate of the decedent. The survival statutes only prevent the cause of action’s extinction, and provide for the enforcement of it against or by the deceased’s representative.
If the deceased person had a pending case at the time, then Code Civ. Proc. Section 377.20 states his or her representative will be able to file a motion, following the demise of the one who started the legal action, and the court of law shall permit it to be pursued by the deceased’s estate, heir or successor in interest.
When it comes to survival action, the possible recoverable damages are actually limited to what the deceased suffered or incurred before demise, that is, economic losses like medical costs, and any penalties, exemplary or punitive damages which the deceased would have been eligible to get had he or she lived.