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Court Permits Amendment of Personal Injury Suit to Include Wrongful Death Claim After Original Plaintiff’s Death, Roden v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, 145 So.3d 183 (4th DCA 2014)

While it may seem trivial, our Miami wrongful death attorneys understand that a crucial part of any personal injury suit is ensuring that claims are filed before the applicable statute of limitations expires. Every cause of action has a statute of limitations, which is the amount of time that the law provides claimants for filing suit in court after the negligent act took place that caused injury. If a party fails to file a claim within the statute of limitations period, the result will often be the court’s dismissal of the claim outright as untimely. While there may be certain circumstances that will keep a claim alive as the case below illustrates, it is crucial that plaintiffs preserve their rights by observing the statute of limitations and pursuing claims in a timely fashion.

In Roden v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the initial plaintiff filed suit against a group of tobacco companies alleging that she suffered injuries from smoking cigarettes and that the companies were liable because of their actions. Shortly after filing the suit, the initial plaintiff died, and her daughter filed a motion to substitute herself into the lawsuit as the estate’s personal representative. The court granted the daughter’s motion. However, the tobacco companies then filed a motion to dismiss the case two years later, arguing that the initial plaintiff’s death nullified the personal injury claim against them. The companies contended that since the initial plaintiff’s daughter failed to amend the complaint to include a wrongful death claim, the lawsuit should be dismissed. The daughter tried to file an amended complaint to include a wrongful death claim, stating that she did not add a wrongful death claim because she thought her previous attorney filed another complaint with a wrongful death claim. The trial court dismissed the complaint in agreement with the tobacco companies, and the daughter filed an appeal.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal first wrestled with a question of whether a succeeding plaintiff can amend a personal injury claim to include a wrongful death claim when the original plaintiff dies while the claim is pending. The court stated that the trial court must suspend the case until the estate’s personal representative is included as a party to the pending suit and has a reasonable opportunity to file an amendment to the complaint to include a wrongful death claim. Therefore, the tobacco companies’ argument that that estate has to bring the wrongful death complaint as a separate suit is erroneous.

Additionally, the tobacco companies contended that the trial court properly dismissed the complaint because the statute of limitations for wrongful death actions expired before the daughter asked to amend the complaint. The daughter argued, in response, that the wrongful death claim against the tobacco companies relates back to the initial filing and is not time-barred. Florida’s civil procedure rules provide that when the claim brought in the amended pleading came out of the conduct outlined in the original pleading, the amended pleading shall relate back to the date of the original complaint and will survive a dismissal motion for untimeliness.

If you or a family member has been injured because of someone else’s negligence, the Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance you need to obtain the results you desire.  With over 130 collective years of experience representing personal injury clients across South Florida, our firm provides legal representation of unmatched excellence.  Contact our firm as soon as possible to start on the road to protecting your legal rights.  Our firm received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and was ranked as a top firm in South Florida by the Miami Herald.   Put our exceptional personal injury attorneys to work on your case.  Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or you can visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.


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