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Florida Second DCA rules that plaintiff’s amended complaint, substituting court appointed personal representative for defendant who died prior to filing of lawsuit, related back to date of original complaint against defendant for statute of limitations purposes

On September 29, 2021, in Friedel v. Edwards, No. 2D20-2233, the Florida Second DCA reversed a trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff’s motor vehicle negligence case, concluding that that the trial court erred in dismissing the case on statute of limitations grounds. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit against the alleged at-fault driver shortly before the expiration of Florida’s four-year general negligence statute of limitations. However, the plaintiff was unaware that the named defendant had died several months earlier. Although the trial court entered an order substituting the Personal Representative of the named defendant’s estate, this was not done until after the four-year statute of limitations had expired. The Personal Representative subsequently moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action at the time the order was entered due to the previous expiration of the statute of limitations. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case with prejudice. The Second DCA concluded that the plaintiff’s naming a deceased defendant rather than a personal representative was a factual discrepancy that did not render the complaint “void ab initio.” The Second DCA distinguished In re 73 Engle-Related Cases, 239 So. 3d 166, 168-69 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), in which the First DCA held that the filing of a civil complaint in the name of a deceased plaintiff should be considered a legal nullity. The Second DCA additionally concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing the plaintiff to file an amended complaint and related back to the filing of the original action, citing, inter alia, its previous holding in May v. HCA Health Services of Florida, Inc., 166 So. 3d 850, 854 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015) that relation back should apply if the new party "knew or should have known that the plaintiff had made a mistake or was guilty of a misnomer as concerns the correct identity of the defendant so that the added party was deemed to have suffered no prejudice by being tardily brought in or substituted as a party."