In A Venue Dispute, Court Held That A Personal Injury Claim Against An Estate Representative Could Be Filed In The County Where The Estate Was Pending
In UPS Ground Freight, Inc. v. Trotter, parties filed claims against an estate representative based on a car accident in the county where the estate was being administered. No. 12-19-00135-CV, 2020 Tex. App. LEXIS 1127 (Tex. App.—Tyler February 10, 2020, no pet. history). A defendant, employer of the decedent, moved to transfer venue to the county where the accident happened. The trial court denied the motion to transfer, and the defendant filed an appeal.
The independent administrator alleged that venue was proper pursuant to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 15.031 because the estate was being administered in that county. The defendant argued that Section 15.031 did not apply because the suit was not one against the administrator “as such, to establish a money demand” against the estate. They contended that the statute limits its applicability to suits involving a claim for a fixed, liquidated sum, and the plaintiffs sought an undetermined amount of personal injury damages.
The court of appeals noted that the term “money demand” was not defined by the statute. It held: “Venue statutes dictating permissible counties in which to sue an administrator of an estate must be read in conjunction with Texas Estates Code provisions regarding procedures for pursuing claims against an estate.” Id. The court noted that the Texas Estates Code defines “claims” as liabilities of a decedent that survive the decedent’s death, regardless of whether the liabilities arise in contract or tort or otherwise. Id. (citing Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 22.005(1)).
The court then discussed the claims process for estate administration. In light of this framework, the court looked to the Texas Civil Practice And Remedies Code to determine the proper county in which the plaintiffs could file suit against the estate administrator for their alleged personal injury damages. The court held:
Pursuant to Section 15.031, a suit against an estate administrator, in her capacity as administrator, to establish a money demand against the estate which she represents, may be brought in the county in which the estate is being administered. A suit for personal injury damages caused by the alleged negligence of the decedent is a suit for unliquidated damages. A suit for personal injury damages against the estate administrator is a “suit to establish a money demand” because the result is that the unliquidated demand is reduced by judgment to a liquidated amount. Therefore, Appellees were entitled to file their personal injury lawsuit against McElduff, as estate administrator, in Rusk County, where Clark’s estate is being administered to establish a money demand.
Id. (internal citations omitted).
The court noted that venue was not exclusive, and that the plaintiffs could have filed suit in the county where the accident occurred. The court also noted: “Because Appellees’ claims against the administrator and Appellants arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences, venue in Rusk County is also established as to Appellants.” Id. The court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the motion to transfer venue.