Court Rules 18 Month Delay in Appointing Administrator Did Not Prejudice Defendants

In March, 2013, the Supreme Court, Nassau County decided that a delay of roughly one and a half years in appointing an Administrator did not prejudice the defendants to the extent that they could not defend a nursing home negligence/malpractice action. Abdul Hasan, the named plaintiff in the complaint, died approximately two months after plaintiffs filed their pleadings. Because of Hassan’s death, it was necessary to substitute a plaintiff to continue the action. As Hassan died intestate (without a will), this substituted plaintiff would necessarily be the Administrator if his estate. Due to complications with the petition, or application, for Letters of Administration, plaintiffs were unable to have a representative appointed until about eighteen months after Hasan’s death.

The co-defendants, a Nassau County nursing home and a Nassau County hospital, argued that this delay severely prejudiced their ability to defend the action. They claimed that plaintiffs had been uncooperative; that the decedent had not been deposed; that discovery had been delayed; and that witness memories had faded to the extent that they would be unable to recall the circumstances underlying the complaint. In response, plaintiffs argued that they were unable to adequately complete discovery without the benefit of a representative of the estate; that they could, at the time of the decision, complete such discovery; and that the defendants had failed to meet their burden of showing prejudice. In its Decision for the plaintiffs, the Court noted that plaintiffs could not have acted without a legal representative of the estate, and that defendants merely showed delay, not prejudice. The Court ordered a preliminary conference to move forward and facilitate the discovery process.

Often in nursing home negligence actions, the individual who suffered the injuries is deceased. In these situations, a personal representative of the decedent’s estate must be appointed for the action to continue. The case described in this post involves an Administrator, the name for a personal representative appointed when the decedent did not have a will (as opposed to an Executor, who would be named within the decedent’s last will and testament).

A petition for Letters of Administration is filed with the Surrogate’s Court of the decedent’s county of residence. When examining the petition, the Surrogate requires at least two documents. The first is an original, certified death certificate. The second is a paid funeral bill. Per the facts of the Decision, the plaintiffs above had difficulty obtaining each of these documents. This contributed to the delay in the issuance of Letters.

Often, in addition to the death certificate and funeral bill, the Surrogate will require other documentation before processing a petition. If you have questions about being appointed as the personal representative of a loved one’s estate, contact the trusts and estates attorneys at Gallivan & Gallivan today.

Hasan v. Sunharbor Manor et. al., 2013 NY Slip Op 32815(U)

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