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Dead Men Tell No Tales (PA)

May 2, 2019

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On April 15, 2019, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania <a href="">affirmed an entry of summary judgment</a> in favor of defendant David K. McMullin, Administrator of the Estate of Zachary Hohman,  on the ground that the action was barred by the statute of limitations.

The case arose out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Turtle Creek Borough, Pennsylvania on July 13, 2014, when the car Kayley Ryan was riding was rear-ended by a car driven by the deceased.  However, the decedent passed away on April 8, 2015 from a cause unrelated to the accident and plaintiff did not commence a lawsuit against the decedent until July 7, 2016.   Once plaintiff found out decedent was no longer alive, plaintiff had McMullin appointed as the administrator of decedent’s estate.  Once McMullin was appointed, plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to substitute decedent’s estate rather than decedent himself.  However, the Court denied the motion to amend.

Plaintiff then commenced a new action on December 2, 2016 which was filed more than 2 years after the accident and more than 1 year after decedent’s death.  As such, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the complaint on the ground that it was barred by the statute of limitations.  Plaintiff countered that defendant was estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense on grounds of fraudulent concealment because decedent’s insurer had not told her counsel that decedent had died.

There was no dispute that the statute of limitations expired before plaintiff filed this action and the Court deemed plaintiff’s fraudulent concealment claim meritless.  To show fraudulent concealment, a plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant or his agent made an affirmative misrepresentation or committed an affirmative act of concealment on which the plaintiff justifiably relied.  Mere silence by the defendant or his agent in the absence of a duty to speak does not bar the defendant from asserting a statute of limitations defense.  Additionally, <em>an insurer is under no duty to notify opposing counsel of its insured’s death</em>.

Thus, the Court ruled that defendant did not making any false representations about decedent and therefore summary judgment was warranted.  As such, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and dismissed the case.   Thanks to Garrett Gittler for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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