No. 2017-0559
Nov. 28, 2018

Natalie Laflamme
Associate at Sulloway & Hollis in Concord practicing civil litigation
Copyright 2017 Robert C Strong II

Reversed and remanded.

  • Whether an action that was brought within three years of the defendant’s death, and was not time-barred at the time of death, was timely.

The plaintiff appealed an order that dismissed her personal injury action against the defendant, the Estate of Mary D. Wood, on the basis that it was time-barred pursuant to RSA 508:4.  On April 5, 2013, the plaintiff was involved in an accident with Mary D. Wood. The plaintiff brought suit against Wood on March 25, 2016. It was mistakenly served on Wood’s daughter, who was also named Mary D. Wood. The daughter moved to dismiss on the grounds that her mother had passed away on January 22, 2015. On April 29, 2016, the plaintiff moved to amend her complaint to substitute the Estate of Mary D. Wood as the defendant. She had also filed a petition for estate administration for the Estate of Mary D. Wood. On June 30, 2016, the trial court dismissed the action, ruling that it could not grant the motion to amend because there was no proof that an estate existed at that time, and, therefore, no defendant could be substituted. Thus, the trial court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. In August 2016, an administrator of the estate was named. The plaintiff then filed a complaint on April 4, 2017. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the statute of limitations had run.

The plaintiff argued that the trial court misapplied RSA 556:11, which provides: “If an action is not then pending, one may be brought for such cause at any time within 6 years after the death of the deceased party, subject to the provisions of RSA 508.” She contended that her claim was not time-barred by RSA 508:4 at the time of Wood’s death, and, consequently, she had six years following the death to commence her action. The defendant argued that, following controlling precedent of the Court, the three-year statute of limitations from the time the action accrued controls and, therefore, the period expired on April 5, 2016. The Court ultimately sided with the plaintiff, with the caveat that she had three years, not six, to bring suit after Wood’s death.

The Court agreed that the plaintiff’s claim was not barred by RSA 508:4’s three-year statute of limitations period at the time of Woods’ death. Although RSA 556:11 provides six years to bring an action after a defendant’s death, the plain language dictates that it is “subject to the provisions of RSA 508,” making the six-year period subservient to, or governed by, the provisions of RSA chapter 508. Therefore, the applicable statute of limitations period in the matter before the Court was three years. The Court held that this three year period started on the date of death. Accordingly, the plaintiff’s action was timely.

Linda B. Sullivan Leahy, Leahy & Leahy, Penacook, for the plaintiff.  James G. Walker, O’Shaughnessy, Walker & Buchholz, Manchester, for the defendant.