When an alleged tortfeasor in a car accident case died before suit was brought, and plaintiffs failed to have an administrator properly named before the statute of limitations on their claim expired, dismissal of the case as a whole was affirmed, including dismissal in favor of plaintiffs’ uninsured motorist insurance carrier.
In Owens v. Muenzel, No. E2018-00199-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2018), plaintiffs were involved in a car accident with another driver on May 11, 2015, and the other driver died on November 14, 2015. Plaintiffs were not aware of his death and filed a personal injury suit against him on March 30, 2016 in circuit court. The summons to the driver was returned with a notation stating that he was deceased. On April 12, 2016, plaintiffs served their uninsured motorist (UM) carrier in the action, who answered by asserting that plaintiffs had not complied with the conditions of their insurance policy.
The deceased driver did not have a personal representative (and no estate was ever opened for him), so plaintiffs petitioned the trial court to appoint an administrator ad litem pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-1-109, which the court did. Later, in July 2017, the UM carrier moved for summary judgment on the basis that “(1) it could not be held liable as [plaintiffs’] [UM] carrier because [plaintiffs] failed to properly and timely bring an action against and serve with process either Deceased’s personal representative or properly appointed administrator ad litem prior to the running of the applicable statute of limitations and that (2) the order entered by the trial court appointing [an] administrator ad litem was void due to the circuit court lacking subject matter jurisdiction.” The circuit court ultimately agreed with both of these arguments, granting summary judgment to defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.