Reports | February 22, 2023 | Personal Injury
When your loved one has died due to someone else’s actions, your family can be eligible for significant financial compensation if you can prove that someone else was to blame for what happened. However, a wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated, with high stakes. For your family, everything must go right for you to receive compensation and the highest possible amount.
First, you should call an experienced wrongful death attorney to learn more about your legal options. Your attorney will stand up for your family’s legal rights and for you to get the largest amount of money that you are due.
State Law Governs Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A wrongful death lawsuit is a creation of Florida law. Historically, under English common law, the right to file a personal injury lawsuit ended with the accident victim’s death. Florida initially adopted this law as its own. However, the result was harsh and unfair to families who lost someone due to someone else’s wrongful actions. As in practically every state across the country, the legislature determined that they needed to offer some type of fix to give families the right to sue when someone else caused the death of their loved one.
Any wrongful death lawsuit is solely a result of a statute that allows it. Thus, your family must follow the rules of the law when filing this court action. Specifically, the law will dictate how a wrongful death case gets filed and who may file it.
Florida Law Sharply Limits Who Can File the Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The law in Florida is different from the statutes in many other states. In other states, the law will specify a hierarchy of people who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, beginning with the spouse and continuing with the minor children and perhaps the parents.
In Florida, only one person can initially file a wrongful death lawsuit. Here, the personal representative (and only the personal representative) can file the wrongful death lawsuit. Having the right to file the case and the legal right to receive proceeds are not the same. You may qualify for money even if you cannot actually file the case.
The Personal Representative Can File the Wrongful Death Case
The law designates the personal representative in the deceased person’s will as the person who can sue. The personal representative is usually the estate administrator or the executor. They are the ones who act on behalf of the estate and will make the decisions about filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
However, the personal representative acts for the people with a legal entitlement to the proceeds of a wrongful death lawsuit or settlement. They will not be the ones who collected the money unless they were one of the people who suffered damages due to the wrongful death.
If there is no personal representative, the family may agree on who may serve in this position. Florida law gives the surviving spouse the first right to be a personal representative. If there is no spouse, the family must decide who serves in that role. Hopefully, the family can agree on the personal representative to begin the legal process of the wrongful death. There may be disputes about the correct personal representative in light of the deceased person’s specific family situation.
The Court May Have to Get Involved if the Deceased Left No Will
If the family cannot agree, the court will appoint someone to serve in that role. The person appointed will then decide on filing the wrongful death claim. If there is no will and no spouse or family agreement, the family needs to promptly go to court to appoint a personal representative because there is a time limit for you to file a wrongful death claim. You have two years from the date of death to file a lawsuit, which is not a lot of time if you have to go through a legal process to appoint a personal representative first.
Beneficiaries Who Can Receive Wrongful Death Proceeds
The personal representative will name the potential beneficiaries of the wrongful death claim since they act on behalf of the people who legally deserve the money.
Under Florida law, beneficiaries can include:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased person
- The children of the decedent
- The parents
Although this is the usual universe of people who may receive money from a wrongful death lawsuit, others who rely on the deceased person financially may be entitled to money. For example, siblings are not usually eligible to receive part of the settlement, but they can if the deceased person supported them.
However, only blood relatives financially reliant on the decedent can receive wrongful death funds. If a boyfriend or girlfriend lived with the decedent and financially depended on them, that person cannot receive money since they were not a blood relative.
The same rule extends to a fiancé who was not yet married to the decedent. As harsh as this may sound, it is Florida’s law, and it does apply in wrongful death cases. Compensation is limited to family and comes through a lawsuit filed by the personal representative.
When deciding when and how to file the lawsuit, the personal representative will consider who may have suffered damages and include that in the wrongful death claim. After all, compensation should pay back anyone in the eligible class who has suffered damages.
If a family is dissatisfied with how the personal representative handles the wrongful death claim, they may go to court to seek to change the person acting in that capacity. The personal representative is obligated to act in the interests of the beneficiaries and put their interests first. They must use due care and make well-informed decisions.
How to Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Once the personal representative has filed the lawsuit, the case must meet all the elements to make your family eligible for financial compensation:
- Your loved one died
- A wrongful act caused the death
- Your family suffered damages as a result of the death
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you need to prove that the death was, in fact, wrongful by a preponderance of the evidence (which is the standard of proof in every civil lawsuit).
Someone else can cause a wrongful death by acting:
Establishing Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim
Most wrongful death lawsuits are filed based on alleged negligence. Not every death is wrongful. There are some cases where accidents will happen, as unfortunate as they are. Negligence is a legal term that describes a wrongful action or oversight.
You have the burden of proof to show every single element of negligence:
- Someone else owed your loved one the duty of care
- They failed to uphold that duty of care by doing something unreasonable under the circumstances
- Your loved one suffered an injury
- Your loved one would not have suffered harm had it not been for the actions of the alleged responsible party.
Examples of Cases Where You May Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The personal representative may file a wrongful death case after practically any action that resulted in the death of your loved one. You may even file a civil case against someone charged criminally concerning the death of your loved one. There is a different standard of proof in a civil case, so you can still win your lawsuit, even if the person was eventually acquitted of a crime.
Here are some examples of actions that can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit:
- A driver loses control of their car when speeding and crashes into a loved one
- A truck driver rear-ends the car driven by your family member because they were distracted
- Your loved one dies in a physical attack (both the assailant and the owner of the location where it happened may be sued if the property owner had notice of a potential danger and did nothing to address it)
- Your family member dies after being sickened or injured by a product that they bought
- A doctor’s negligent actions during surgery, or their failure to diagnose an injury, causes your loved one to die
Your Family’s Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
When you win a wrongful death lawsuit, your family may receive compensation for its loss. Different people in your family may suffer differently from losing a loved one.
Wrongful death damages can include:
- The wages that your loved one would have earned had they lived and been able to continue working
- The loss of the guidance and support that your loved one provided to members of the family
- The loss of the close, loving relationship with the decedent
- The loss of the physical relationship with the decedent
- The grief and trauma that your family suffered when your loved one tragically died
In addition, the personal representative can also file a survival lawsuit seeking compensation for the damages that your loved one suffered between the time of their injury and death.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits Represent Both Compensation and Justice
How your family handles a wrongful death lawsuit will significantly affect your financial future. Dependents will need money to support them in the future. Without the support provided by the deceased person, the family will struggle without an adequate wrongful death settlement.
In addition, a wrongful death lawsuit is your family’s way to get justice for what happened to your loved one. Making the responsible party pay in full for what they did is a way to get some closure, even if you will continue to feel the pain forever. At least it helps your family to know that someone is being held responsible for what they did. Without a settlement or jury award, your family may never get closure to the fullest extent possible.
You Should Hire an Attorney for Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death lawsuits are complex cases. Not only do you have the requirement to prove what happened, but you will also need to know the value of your case and how much money you are due. Then, there may be issues relating to who is entitled to receive money from the settlement and how much they can get. Your family will also need to plan financially and figure out how you want any settlement that you will receive paid to you (either in a lump sum or a structured settlement).
These are just some reasons you need to hire a wrongful death lawyer. There is little more that your family can do other than try to react to and process what happened to your loved one. You certainly do not have the bandwidth or the knowledge to get involved personally in the legal process.
If you try to, the insurance company will do everything it can to take advantage of you. They do not care that you have lost a loved one and may suffer financially. The insurance company thinks they are suffering when they have to write a check to cover the total damages.
Your wrongful death attorney will fight for you when the insurance company tries to work against you. Working together with an attorney, you can fight for justice and hold someone else accountable for what they did. There is no cost out of your pocket to get the legal help that you need. You do not have to pay any money upfront; you only owe an attorney anything if your wrongful death case is successful.
Seek Justice Today
When you hire the right wrongful death attorney, you are seeking justice for your lost loved one. Not only is your attorney fighting for financial support for your family, but also holding the party accountable for their actions and your avoidable loss.
Wrongful death claims can be complex, but you will not have to worry about any of the processes if you hire the right attorney. You can focus on your family while your wrongful death lawyer handles every aspect of your case.