It’s generally not easy to sue a deceased person’s estate in California. In most cases, claimants must file a creditor’s claim before proceeding with a lawsuit in the Superior Court, which may first require bringing a petition to open up probate of the decedent’s estate. Claimants must move quickly given the one-year statute of limitations under California Code of Civil Procedure section 366.2.
In traffic accident situations, however, the claimant has a streamlined procedural path if he or she limits the claim to the auto insurance coverage held by the decedent. In such a case, under California Probate Code sections 550-555, the claimant effectively sues the insurance company, with the decedent’s estate only being a nominal defendant.
A recent appellate case from the Third District Court of Appeal, Meleski v. Estate of Albert Holden (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 616, strengthens the position of California accident victims by allowing them to obtain recoveries in excess of policy limits if the insurance carrier refuses to accept a settlement offer and the claimant then obtains a court judgment in excess of the offer. The decision should incentivize carriers to accept policy limits settlement offers.