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Wrongful Death - Relation Back - Rule 17, Ala. R. Civ. Proc.

Pollard v. H.C. Partnership, [Ms. 1180795, Mar. 13, 2020] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2020). The Court (Bolin, J.; Parker, C.J., and Wise, Sellers, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Bryan, J., concurs in the result; Shaw, J., dissents) reverses the Jefferson Circuit Court’s summary judgment dismissing a wrongful death action on the ground of expiration of the two-year limitations period.

On May 7, 2017, Fannie Pollard filed an action against Hill Crest Behavioral Services for the wrongful death of Ed Young. Pollard was not appointed administrator of Young’s Estate until May 8, 2017, the day before the second anniversary of Young’s death. Ms. *2. On June 15, 2017, Pollard filed an amended complaint listing as plaintiffs Young’s Estate and herself as personal representative. Ibid.

The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that Rule 17(a) Ala. R. Civ. Proc.’s relation-back doctrine does not apply to wrongful death actions, explaining that the “doctrine does not extend the limitations period but merely allows substitution of a party in a suit otherwise timely filed.” Ms. *11.

The Court distinguished cases such as Alvarado v. Kidd, 205 So. 3d 1188 (Ala. 2016) and Wood v. Wayman, 47 So. 3d 1212 (Ala. 2010) where the appointment of the personal representatives occurred after expiration of the wrongful-death limitations period. Ms. *12. The Court cited with approval Ellis v. Hilburn, 688 So. 2d 236 (Ala. 1997), allowing relation-back under Rule 17(a) of an amended complaint where the surviving spouse had filed the initial complaint as “next of kin” but was subsequently appointed personal representative prior to expiration of the wrongful-death limitations period. Ms. *16.

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