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Florida Third DCA rules that trial court erred in striking complaint due to delay in appointment of personal representatives for deceased plaintiff

On September 26, 2018, in Lindor v. Florida East Coast Railway, No. 3D17-2366, the Florida Third DCA ruled that the trial court erred in striking the plaintiff’s wrongful death complaint and dismissing the complaint, which effectively had precluded further litigation since the statute of limitations period had already passed. The trial court dismissed the complaint because the plaintiffs, the co-personal representatives of the estate of a decedent who had been struck and killed by a freight train operated by the defendant, filed the wrongful death complaint as co-personal representatives but failed to actually obtain their appointment by the probate court for almost two and a half years, only doing so after the defense filed a motion to dismiss the complaint as a sham pleading. The Third DCA noted that a remarkably similar case had been decided by the Florida Supreme Court in Griffin v. Workman, 73 So. 2d 844, 845 (Fla. 1954), wherein the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the trial court had erred in not allowing the case to proceed and for the issuance of the letters of probate administration to relate back to the beginning of the lawsuit for statute of limitations purposes. The Third DCA also cited Estate of Eisen v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 126 So. 3d 323 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013), which identified four principal factors to be considered in determining whether to permit an amendment to substitute a party-plaintiff: (1) whether the timely-filed action gave the defendants fair notice of the legal claim and the underlying allegations; (2) whether there is an identity of interest between the original and substituted plaintiff; (3) whether the amendment caused any prejudice to the defendants; and (4) whether the amendment to substitute plaintiffs would create a “new” cause of action.