Illinois Appellate Court Reinstates Lawsuit in Car Crash Case Where Defendant Died Before Suit; Relf v. Shatayeva

In a February 2010 lawsuit filed by the plaintiff, Sandra Relf, it was alleged that Joseph Pre Jr. was negligent when their vehicles crashed in February 2008. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office could not serve Pre with a lawsuit, so Relf filed a motion to appoint a special process server to deliver a service of summons to Pre. However, he died in April 2008. When Relf learned of Pre’s death, she filed a motion for leave to appoint a special administrator for Pre’s estate.

The trial judge approved the motion to name the special administrator of Pre’s estate. However, at the same time, Pre’s family opened a probate estate for him in August 2008, four months after the appointment of the special administrator. Because the estate already existed at the time Relf filed her lawsuit, the estate asked the judge to rule that the lawsuit was void. The estate argued that the appointment of a special administrator was improper because Pre’s family received no notice of it.

The response by plaintiff Relf was that she didn’t know that Pre had passed away when her lawsuit was filed. However, the trial judge granted the estate’s motion to dismiss and an appeal was taken.

The appellate court reversed the judge’s ruling in a 14-page opinion. The estate contended that Relf failed to follow §13-209(b) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure which allows lawsuits against an estate’s personal representative within 6 months of death.

“It is unreasonable, and in this case it would have been impossible, to force a plaintiff to commence an action against the personal representative within 6 months of a decedent’s death when the plaintiff does not even know that the decedent had died,” wrote the majority opinion.

After learning of the death, Relf followed the requirements of §13-209(c) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. That section allows a plaintiff to proceed in a lawsuit against an estate’s personal representative if the plaintiff did not know about the death when the suit was first filed.

“In this case, plaintiff did not know of decedent’s death until after she filed her original complaint,” Appellate Judge Sheldon A. Harris wrote. “This is not disputed by defendant.”

The opinion squares with logic and makes it fair for this plaintiff to proceed with her lawsuit.

Sandra Relf v. Natasha Shatayeva, 2012 Ill.App. (1st) 112071.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling car crashes, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents and bike accidents for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Hinsdale, Villa Park, Oak Park, Northbrook, Buffalo Grove, Fox River Grove, Island Lake, Long Lake, Round Lake Beach, Chicago (Canaryville), Burbank and Chicago (Calumet Heights), Ill.

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