Reports | March 15, 2023 | Personal Injury
Losing a loved one is arguably one of the most challenging life circumstances someone may face. While death is undoubtedly a part of life, an unnatural death that was preventable can hit especially hard. Families who are missing loved ones due to avoidable deaths need to know they have legal rights and options.
It’s in their best interests to meet with a Florida wrongful death lawyer to learn more about what steps they can take. Florida law governs who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, what damages might be available to them, and how long they have to file such a suit.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Florida law allows victims of personal injuries to file suit with the court to obtain compensation for their damages. The same is true for victims who succumb to their injuries, except this is a wrongful death suit. It’s quite similar to personal injury cases as far as legal procedures. However, it differs in who can file the claim, what damages are available, and the statute of limitations or deadline to file a claim.
Under Florida statute, wrongful death occurs when a person or party causes a death resulting from a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty.”
In other words, a wrongful death occurs when a loss of life occurs due to the legal fault of someone else, including as a result of:
- A deliberate act such as a crime
- A negligence-based incident (such as a slip and fall or motor vehicle accident)
- Medical malpractice
- Defective products
If the decedent might have filed a personal injury claim for their injuries if they had lived, certain parties can likely file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf.
If you believe you have reason to pursue a wrongful death case on behalf of your loved one, don’t hesitate to contact a compassionate Florida wrongful death attorney.
Who Can File a Florida Wrongful Death Case in Florida?
In Florida, only a personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim on their behalf. If the deceased has named a personal representative, this designation should be in their estate plan or will. If there is no will, estate plan, or pre-appointed representative, the court will appoint one. Typically, this is a close family member.
The following family members can seek to recover financial damages in a Florida wrongful death case from the deceased’s:
- Spouse, children, or parents
- Blood relatives
- Adoptive siblings
- Adult children if there’s no living spouse
- Parents of minors
Sometimes wrongful death cases are confusing regarding who can file the claim and who should receive damages. Many Florida wrongful death attorneys offer free, no-obligation legal consultations to discuss your case. During this consultation, they can evaluate all facets of your case and help you to take the next steps.
What Circumstances Result in Florida Wrongful Death Claims?
Florida wrongful death law provides financial recovery to the relatives of an individual whose death is considered wrongful.
Examples of specific circumstances resulting in a wrongful or accidental death lawsuit in Florida include:
- Motor vehicle and airplane accidents: Automobile, train, bus, airplane, or other common carrier accidents can lead to wrongful death cases if the negligent party was operating the vehicle recklessly, with or without the impairment of alcohol or drugs. Even if another individual didn’t specifically cause the accident, a wrongful death case can succeed if the vehicle or common carrier was defective.
- Consumer product liability: Defective and potentially hazardous products sold to consumers can cause deaths and lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Medical malpractice: When medical professionals or medical facilities don’t give patients with the correct standard of care that they should, they can be held liable for the resulting death and damages. For instance, a medical malpractice case arising from a wrong dose of medication or a failure to diagnose can turn into a wrongful death claim.
- Hazardous work conditions: Employees have a right to be and feel safe in their work environments. Even still, wrongful death claims in Florida can directly arise from workplace exposure to asbestos or hazardous chemicals or working with dangerous machinery and unsafe equipment, as well as other circumstances.
- Criminal acts: An individual who commits an intentional or unintentional crime resulting in the death of another can face a wrongful death claim. As previously stated, these cases are tried separately from homicide or manslaughter criminal cases. You can also pursue compensation from the owner of a hotel, motel, retailer, restaurant, or nightclub that failed to provide proper security if a loved one died from a crime on their property.
- Supervised extracurricular activities: Some wrongful death claims involve victims who died while participating in activities supervised by other individuals expected to provide proper medical and common-sense precautions to keep those entrusted in their care safe. This includes high school and college athletes who die during organized training sessions or games or a child who dies on a field trip.
- Nursing home negligence or abuse: Nursing homes can be held liable for neglect or abuse resulting in the death of a patient.
Whatever the circumstances might be, it’s best to discuss it with a seasoned Florida wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to determine if you have a valid wrongful death claim.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Florida Wrongful Death Claims?
The statute of limitations is a legal deadline. For wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations addresses how long the appropriate parties have to file a wrongful death claim after their loved one dies. This time limit varies between states.
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Florida is two years from the death. But, suppose the decedent’s personal representative doesn’t file a claim within two years. In that case, they will no longer have the legal right to pursue one. Therefore, it’s crucial to note that if the decedent suffered an injury several days, weeks, or months before their death, the statute doesn’t begin to run until the day they die.
However, if the wrongful death resulted from a crime of manslaughter or murder, the statute of limitations doesn’t apply. The personal representative can file a wrongful death claim at any point in the future- whether a suspect has been arrested, charged, or convicted or not.
Families that have lost a loved one due to another person’s negligent or intentional actions should consult an attorney for information about how the statute of limitations will apply to their case. Don’t wait to seek the legal help you need. Two years isn’t much time, especially when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. The sooner you reach out to an attorney, the better your chances of receiving full and fair compensation for your wrongful death claim.
What if the Liable Party Faces Criminal Charges?
It’s possible that the person who caused your loved one’s death is also facing criminal charges in addition to the civil charges their representative is bringing on their behalf. This is common if the death was the result of a drunk driving crash, medical malpractice, a criminal act, or domestic abuse. The state brings criminal charges, whereas the decedent’s personal representative brings civil claims.
Please note that the civil and criminal cases are separate. Although they can run concurrently, one doesn’t depend on another or preclude the victim’s family from filing the other charges. However, at times, a criminal conviction can often help the family win a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
Even though you or other family members may receive money from a victim’s assistance or another type of fund, it may not be nearly enough to compensate you for your loved one’s death or pay their medical bills or other debts.
The best way to do this is to hire a Florida wrongful death attorney who can advocate on behalf of your deceased loved one and family for the justice you deserve. Don’t let a criminal case keep you from seeking civil justice and compensation on behalf of your family member.
Criminal charges for murder, homicide, manslaughter, and the like are brought by the prosecuting attorney on behalf of the State of Florida and are rooted in criminal law.
If convicted in criminal court, the party responsible for the death will face criminal consequences, depending on the type and severity of their conviction, such as:
- Suspension or revocation of their driver’s license or other professional licenses (such as a medical license if the death were related to medical malpractice)
- Community service
Specific family members of the decedent can file wrongful death lawsuits under civil law. If the court finds the accused party at fault or liable for the death, they must pay a monetary award to the victim’s family or their estate. If the at-fault party or their insurance company, such as in a car accident, refuses to pay you what they owe you, an experienced Florida wrongful death attorney can help the family members take further actions to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Claims
Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, the deceased’s personal representative must be the only party to bring about the claim or lawsuit. The law allows the personal representative to bring a claim for the benefit of the decedent’s estate and the decedent’s survivors.
Recoverable damages by the deceased’s estate include:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Medical expenses related to their death
- Lost wages and income
- Mental pain and anguish
- Value of lost support and services
What is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
Wrongful death claims, like other personal injury claims, can vary in value. Many factors will determine how much a claim is worth.
These factors include:
- The at-fault party and the limits of any applicable insurance policies they have
- The types and amounts of damages suffered by your family members and the deceased estate
- If there were multiple parties at-fault for the wrongful death
- How soon you want to settle your claim
- The strength of the evidence in the case
When you call an attorney for help, they can provide you with an estimate of what your claim might be worth. It’s their job to maximize your compensation in any way we can. No amount of compensation can bring your loved one back, but having a financial safety net and the ability to pay any related bills can help make this difficult time less burdensome.
What Happens if the Decedent is a Minor Child?
If a minor child dies, their parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. The damages they seek are similar to those in a child injury claim, such as medical expenses, but can also include funeral and burial expenses.
Parents need to note that the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is sometimes different from child personal injury lawsuits. For instance, in child injury lawsuits, they often have until after the child turns 18. However, they may only have a couple of years from the date of their child’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a minor child. By consulting with a well-versed Florida wrongful death attorney, they can ensure that they file their claim within the applicable statute of limitations.
When Should You Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney?
It’s in your best interest to contact a Florida personal injury attorney as soon as possible after your loved one dies or has suffered life-threatening injuries. When you contact a lawyer, they can evaluate the specifics of your circumstances and determine your next best steps. If they involve filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim, they can help you file the claim.
Contacting a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible will help se