Hamilton v. Blackman
In Hamilton v. Blackman, 915 P.2d 1210 (Alaska 1996), the plaintiffs were involved in a car accident. The driver of the other car died in the accident. Hamilton, 915 P.2d at 1216. The plaintiffs submitted their claim to the driver's liability insurer. Before their claim became time barred, the plaintiff sued the deceased driver and served the driver's wife as the estate's personal representative, even though she had never been appointed to act in that capacity. Id. at 1212.
The original defendant, the deceased driver (represented by a law firm retained by the insurer), moved to dismiss asserting that the plaintiffs had failed to sue the proper party, the estate. Id. The trial court agreed and dismissed the case.
The Alaska Supreme Court reversed. Id. at 1218. It found that the plaintiffs were entitled to petition the probate court for the appointment of a personal representative and to move to amend their complaint to add the estate, assuming the relation back requirements governing Alaska Civil Rule 15(c) (which were identical to Arizona Rule 15(c)) were satisfied. Id.
Explaining that the "touchstone" of the relation back doctrine was fairness, the court noted that it appeared that the driver's insurer had actual notice and knowledge of the lawsuit and that, consequently, the relation back requirements were met:
"It is the Estate of William Blackmon, not State Farm, that plaintiffs will seek to bring into the case when they sue the estate's personal representative. As the estate has not yet been opened it could not have notice of the claim against it; it would therefore be impossible to satisfy the literal terms of Civil Rule 15(c). However, State Farm is the only entity with exposure for damages liability as a result of plaintiffs' action. Under these circumstances, actual notice to State Farm suffices to meet the notice requirements of Civil Rule 15(c)." Id. at 1218 n. 12.