How Much Time Does a Creditor Have to File a Lawsuit Against an Estate?
Florida probate law imposes a set of deadlines on creditor claims against an estate. The basic rule is that a creditor must present a claim to the personal representative of the estate within the later of 30 days after being served a notice of the estate’s probate or 3 months after said notice is published. Notwithstanding these deadlines, all creditor claims are barred if they are brought 2 years after the death of the decedent.
The 2-year deadline comes into play when dealing with creditors who did not receive notice of the original probate for one reason or another. It can also apply when a probate estate was not opened immediately after the decedent’s death. But the 2-year deadline cannot be extended as to new claims. It functions as a “statute of repose” that bars claims regardless of the merits once the deadline has passed.
Florida Supreme Court Bars Personal Injury Claim Filed 3 Years After Defendant’s Death
The Florida Supreme Court recently addressed the application of this 2-year deadline to a claim brought against the employer of a deceased man who was sued for causing an auto accident just before his death. The case, Tsuji v. Fleet, arose from a June 2014 accident. At the time, the decedent was driving a car owned by his employer and operating the vehicle in the course of his employment. Two people, the petitioners in this case, were injured in that accident.
The decedent passed away a few weeks after the accident due to unrelated causes. Three years after the decedent’s death, the petitioners filed a personal injury lawsuit in Florida circuit court, naming both the decedent and his employer as defendants. (Under Florida law, an employer can be held vicariously liable for accidents caused by their employees.) After learning the decedent had died, the petitioners substituted the personal representative of his estate. They also limited their claim for damages to the limits of the decedent’s insurance policy.
The employer moved to dismiss the case, arguing that since it was filed more than two years after the decedent had died, it was barred by the 2-year statute of repose for claims against an estate. And since the decedent could not be held liable, neither could the employer. The petitioners replied that since they were now only seeking to collect from the decedent’s insurance company, the 2-year limitation did not apply.
The circuit court disagreed and granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Florida First District Court of Appeal upheld that decision. But since the First District’s decision conflicted with the opinion of another district court in a similar case, the Supreme Court stepped in to resolve the conflict. It did so by agreeing with the First District. By waiting three years to file their lawsuit, the petitioners could not now seek to hold the decedent or his estate liable for their injuries. And as the decedent was “exonerated,” so too was his employer.
Speak with Florida Probate Attorney Mark R. Manceri Today
Creditor claims can often lead to litigation over a personal representative’s obligation to pay. That is why it is important to work with a qualified Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation lawyer who can advise you of your rights and responsibilities in this area. Contact the offices of Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.