Oops! I Sued the Wrong Party and Need to Amend the Complaint AFTER the Expiration of the Statute of Limitations
If you incorrectly sue the wrong party and need to amend to substitute the correct party after the statute of limitations, there is an argument the amendment will relate back to the timely filing of the initial complaint. This means, with the relation back of the amended complaint to the initial complaint, that the amended complaint was timely filed and the expiration of the statute of limitations does not apply.
In Friedel v. Edwards, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D2125a (Fla. 2d DCA 2021), a plaintiff sued a defendant stemming from a car accident. However, the defendant had died so the plaintiff moved to substitute / amend the deceased defendant with the personal representative of the deceased defendant’s estate. The amendment occurred outside of the statute of limitations. The estate moved to dismiss the complaint arguing the complaint against the estate could not be amended to relate back to the original filing of the lawsuit because the statute of limitations against the estate, a new party, expired and the initial complaint was a legal nullity because it sued a dead person. The trial court agreed. The appellate court, however, did not.
The appellate court first held the complaint was not a legal nullity such that it should be deemed void because it properly asserted a cause of action.
Next, the appellate court held the amended complaint substituting in the estate as the defendant did relate back to the initial complaint meaning it was properly filed within the statute of limitations. “Amendments should relate back to the original date of filing [of the initial complaint] 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.” Friedel, supra (citation omitted and internal quotations omitted) (noting that the relation back doctrine should be liberally construed so cases can be resolved on merits). In this vein, the court stated the amended complaint did nothing except substitute the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate and concerns the same action: “The Estate has not, and cannot, plausibly claim it would be prejudiced since the nearly identical original complaint was, without question, timely filed.” Friedel, supra.
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