The unnecessary death of a loved one is one of the most tragic, traumatic events most people will ever experience. A wrongful death can occur through a person’s—or a company or manufacturer’s—negligence, wrongful actions, or complete inaction in the face of a crisis. The resulting fatality is called a wrongful death. Wrongful deaths can leave families struggling, not only emotionally, but financially as well, due to the loss of future financial support.
If a parent is killed as the result of another’s negligence, his or her children have forever lost not only financial support, but parental care and guidance. A surviving spouse has lost the love and comfort of a husband or wife. Obviously, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, however economic damages received through a civil action can ease the financial devastation suffered by the loved ones left behind.
Top Causes of Wrongful Deaths
While auto accidents—caused by an impaired driver, speeding or driver distractions—are the primary cause of wrongful deaths for those under the age of 35, medical mistakes actually kill a larger number of people overall. In fact, medical errors are now the third leading cause of death, overall, following cancer and heart disease. Other common causes of wrongful deaths include:
- Slip and falls;
- Workplace injuries;
- Motorcycle and truck accidents;
- Amusement park ride accidents;
- Boating accidents;
- Swimming pool accidents;
- Fatal dog bites;
- Birth injuries leading to death;
- Nursing home abuse leading to death;
- Criminal assault, and
- Hazardous conditions due to livestock entering the roadway (Strict liability for the animal’s owner).
Under medical errors, the primary causes of death include adverse prescription drug reactions, surgical errors and hospital infections. Train accidents were responsible for 84 deaths between 2004 and 2013, and mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, causes another 3,000-4,000 deaths each year.
In the state of Florida, an average of 50-75 boating deaths occur each year, while the accidental drowning rate for children between the ages of one and four in the state is nearly three times the average national rates. As far as deaths from truck accidents, Florida ranks as the third most dangerous state, behind California and Texas, with between 190 and 300 truck accident fatalities each year. Finally, Florida’s large elderly population proves particularly vulnerable to slip and falls which result in brain trauma as well as head, neck and spinal injuries, and can lead to death.
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Who is Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Claim in the State of Florida?
When a person dies in the state of Florida, they leave behind their “estate,” which is everything they own at the time of their death, left to their beneficiaries via a will or as determined by the state of Florida. The first category of claimants who can file a claim under the wrongful death statute in Florida is the personal representative of the estate. This is the person who can bring the wrongful death claim on behalf of any of the estate’s beneficiaries. In this category, however, damages are limited. The personal representative can also file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the survivors of the deceased. While the survivors could also be beneficiaries, they are entitled to a different type of damages (higher settlements). Under the Florida wrongful death statute, the following qualify as “survivors:”
- The spouse of the decedent;
- The children of the decedent (children under the age of 25, are entitled to higher damages);
- The parents of the decedent, and
- Blood relatives who were at least partially dependent on the decedent for support, including adoptive sisters and brothers.
A child of any age is allowed, under Florida law, to recover for lost support and services, from the time the decedent was injured to the time of his or her death, as well as future loss of financial support. If the decedent left no surviving spouse, children of any age may be able to recover damages for the loss of parental guidance and companionship, as well as for mental pain and suffering—unless the wrongful death was the result of medical negligence.
Parents are not allowed to recover damages for pain and suffering if their deceased child was over the age of 25 at the time of his or her death unless there are no other survivors, and if medical malpractice was the cause of the wrongful death, then no pain and suffering damages will be considered. Medical and/or funeral expenses resulting from the death of the decedent are recoverable by the survivor who paid those expenses.
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The Amount of Time Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida
The statute of limitations, or the amount of time allowed in which to bring a wrongful death claim in Florida is two years from the date of the death. If a wrongful death claim is not brought within this time period, the claim may be barred forever. Statutes of limitations are in place to prevent evidence from disappearing, witnesses from moving or their memories from fading. There is one narrow exception to the Florida statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim. The Jeffrey Klee Memorial Act provides there is no time limit to file a wrongful death action when the death was the result of homicide. This is due to the fact that homicide investigations often drag on for years before the guilty party is identified and brought to justice.
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Damages Available to Those Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
Survivors of the decedent, as defined under Florida statutes, may be entitled to the following damages:
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss of instruction;
- Loss of guidance;
- Loss of potential earnings from the decedent;
- Mental pain and suffering;
- Loss of protection, and
- Medical and funeral expenses.
The amount of damages which will eventually be awarded will be dependent on a number of factors, including:
- The survivor’s relationship to the decedent;
- The amount of the decedent’s likely net income which would have been available to the specific survivor, and
- The replacement value of the decedent’s services to the survivor.
The life expectancy of the decedent, as well as the amount of time the surviving children will be considered minors will also be taken into consideration.
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Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Wrongful death claims are intended to compensate the surviving loved ones for the loss of the decedent, both economically and emotionally. The damages typically awarded to this end are known as compensatory damages, which are intended to “repay” the family of the decedent for all costs related to present and future work income, medical expenses prior to death and burial expenses.
Lost income is calculated according to the decedent’s age at the time of death, the decedent’s average life expectancy, and their normal earnings times the number of years the decedent could reasonably have been expected to continue to work. Survivors may also be entitled to pain and suffering for the level of grief experienced from the death, as well as the loss of companionship.
A Florida court may also decide to award punitive damages to the survivors, if it is shown the negligent party’s acts were intentional, grossly negligent or reckless. Punitive damages are intended to punish the negligent party, as well as to discourage similar acts in the future by others. Punitive damages, if awarded, are awarded in addition to compensatory damages.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
Your loved one may have been gravely injured, triggering a personal injury case, then later died as a result of those injuries, escalating the case to a wrongful death claim, or may have died immediately, as a result of the negligence of another. In either situation, there are specific elements which must be present in order for the claim to be successful. These elements are:
- A human life was lost;
- That life was lost as a result of another’s actions;
- The action which resulted in the death of the victim was a negligent act or an intentional act;
- There are survivors harmed by the loss of the victim, and
- Those survivors have suffered monetary damages as a result of the death.
Once these elements have been established, a personal representative will be appointed. That personal representative will identify the survivors as well as any outstanding economic obligations left by the decedent, then will initiate a wrongful death claim.
How Your Wrongful Death Claim Will Proceed
When all the necessary information is gathered, regarding survivors and cause of death, a demand for damages will be made against the defendant. If the claim is not settled, a complaint will be drafted, and the case will go to court. Discovery will take place, during which both sides will provide the necessary documents, witnesses will be deposed, and a mediation conference will be held prior to trial to determine if the case can be settled. If there is no agreement during mediation, a trial date will be set.
Getting the Help You Need Following the Wrongful Death of a Loved One
If you have lost a loved one due to negligence or a deliberate, malicious act by another, you may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. It is extremely important that you speak to an experienced Florida wrongful death attorney in order to fully understand your options and have any questions you may have answered. The attorneys at The Law Place will assist you with your wrongful death claim in a professional, compassionate manner, using every resource at their disposal. With more than 75 years combined experience, The Law Place attorneys will be your advocate, protecting your rights at every turn. Don’t wait, call The Law Place today at 941-444-4444. “We are here for you.”
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