When a fatal car accident happens, it’s common for the family members of the person who died to file a wrongful death lawsuit if they suspect a driver’s negligent actions caused the crash. But what if that driver also died? In many cases, there are still options for recourse.

One example of this situation is the June 2011 car accident that killed a star of the reality TV series “Jackass,” a show that featured people performing ridiculous and often dangerous stunts and pranks. Ryan Dunn and his friend Zachery Hartwell, a production assistant on one of the movies inspired by the TV show, were traveling in Dunn’s Porsche 911 when the car went off the road and slammed into a tree in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Both men were killed.

The police report on the crash stated that speed may have been a factor in the crash, and a toxicology report found that Dunn had a blood alcohol level of .196 percent at the time of the accident — more than twice the legal driving limit of .08 percent. As a result of this finding, Hartwell’s parents filed a lawsuit against both Dunn and the bar where the two were drinking before the accident. The plaintiffs, who filed the civil lawsuit this month, claim the bar should not have served Dunn after he was obviously intoxicated. And in driving drunk at speeds of up to 132 mph, Dunn also exhibited negligent and reckless behavior that led to the death of Hartwell, the lawsuit says.

How does one file suit against a deceased person? By going after their estate, which is similar to filing a lawsuit against a living person, but instead the plaintiff deals with the executor of the estate, which could be a family member of the deceased person or another party. In some cases there are time limits for filing such a lawsuit against an estate, based on a state’s probate laws. Because things can get complicated when the defendant is not the person who caused the accident, it pays to consult a personal injury attorney with experience in cases involving a deceased person’s estate. He or she can help ensure that even if the person responsible is no longer alive, you’re justly compensated for your own family’s loss.

Source: Reuters, “‘Jackass’ Star Ryan Dunn’s Estate Sued Over Fatal Crash,” Andrew Lu, Aug. 9, 2012

· Our law firm handles situations similar to the case described in this post. If you’d like to learn more about our personal injury practice, please visit our Harrisburg car accident page.