July 6, 2009
Suing The Dead
An attempt to substitute a law firm for a deceased defendant was rejected by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department:
In December 2006, just before the statute of limitations expired (CPLR 214), plaintiff commenced this action naming as sole defendant the driver of a car that had allegedly struck plaintiff's car, injuring plaintiff. However, that driver had died in December 2004. After trying to identify an administrator of the driver's estate and starting a second action against the driver's wife, on the mistaken belief that she was the administrator of his estate, plaintiff moved to substitute, as a party defendant, the law firm assigned to this matter by the deceased driver's liability insurer. That motion was granted on default and the court subsequently denied the law firm's motion to vacate the default and dismiss the complaint.
Since one cannot commence an action against a deceased person, this action was a nullity from its inception (see Marte v Graber, 58 AD3d 1, 2-3 ). Consequently, the motion court lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the initial action and erred in denying defendant's motion to dismiss.
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