A claim for wrongful death is a civil lawsuit by a family member against a company or another person to hold them responsible for the death of a loved one. The death could be as a result of recklessness, negligence, or deliberate actions. You need a personal injury attorney to help you file a wrongful death claim, and you can always rely on The Clay County Personal Injury Attorney if you want to file any personal injury claim in Clay County, Florida.
Florida’s Statutes on Wrongful Death
In Florida, Statutes 768.16 – 768.26 outline the Wrongful Death Act. These laws are vital in assisting you to receive compensation if your family member dies due to another person's negligence. The statutes permit the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to take legal action for the benefit of the beneficiaries. They also allow both the estate and some surviving family members to receive compensation in monetary terms. Section 768.19 of the Florida Statutes also gives the estate of a deceased person the right to seek a legal solution to losses accruing from death.
Under Section 768.19, you can only file a claim for wrongful death based on three elements.
- First, there must have been behavior that constitutes default, negligence, breach of contract or warranty, or a wrongful act.
- Second, the conduct on which the case is based must have caused the death of the person.
- Third, the behavior must have permitted the person to act, and secure compensation had death not occurred wrongfully.
Section 768.21 of the Florida Statutes outlines the rules of the state for the award of damages in a wrongful death case. The same statute requires that while filing for recovery of damages for wrongful death, you must identify all possible recipients, and reveal their relationship to the deceased. Under Florida Statutes section 768.20, you are permitted to file a wrongful death claim if you are a spouse, a child or a parent of the victim. You may also file a claim if you are a blood relative or an adoptive sibling who was wholly or partially dependent on the deceased. Damages in a claim of wrongful death are different from claims where the victim is alive. The amounts received by each survivor and the estate in the claim are outlined in section 768.22 of the Florida Statutes.
Although wrongful death is closely related to manslaughter and murder criminal charges, a wrongful death claim is an independent action where you have a legal right to seek monetary compensation either as part of the estate or a survivor such as a spouse or a child. As a dependent, you will, under normal circumstances, claim loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and value of lost support. The claim may also include restitution for expenses and damages incurred from the time the injury happened to death, interest and projected future income.
Florida’s Statute of Limitations
All civil actions, including claims for wrongful death, have statutes of limitations. These are time limits within which your claim must be registered. Statutes of limitations create fairness and predictability in filing lawsuits. You notify the potential defendants of the harm they might have caused to another party, without having a legal matter pending against them indefinitely. You must also make a timely decision on whether or not to file a lawsuit. After the statute of limitation window expires, the courts have no jurisdiction to punish the violators or to offer you compensation. Additionally, you lose the right to file a legal claim except under special circumstances.
Under Florida statutes section 95.11, the statute of limitation for wrongful death is only two years from when death occurs, a period that is considerably shorter than the period allowed for other cases of personal injury. Although this limit applies to a majority of claims for wrongful death, the date can be postponed under some specific circumstances. Furthermore, wrongful death claims can be complicated by issues such as posthumous children, adopted children and intent to remarry or divorce.
Generally, the limitations period in a claim for wrongful death starts when you discover, or should have discovered by exercising reasonable diligence, the cause of the victim’s death. The ‘discovery rule’ is often applied in claims for wrongful death to decide whether the deceased should have known or knew the cause of his or her injury or illness before his or her death. The discovery rule permits you to file a lawsuit within a specific time frame after you discover or should have discovered the action that caused death. If the victim knew the cause of injury or illness, the limitations period might start running before the deceased’s death.
If your claim for wrongful death arises out of a claim for personal injury, it may be barred by the statute of limitations if the deceased had not filed a claim at the time of death. This is because he or she did not file a claim for personal injury within the time limits for that injury.
Even when your claim is time-barred, you still have some options that you can use to extend the time limits. You may petition the court for a waiver of the statute of limitations to allow you to file your claim. To merit a waiver, your circumstances must meet specific criteria, which is quite rare. It is also very likely that the opposing party will not willingly agree to your request for a waiver.
A more common approach is suspending or delaying the statute of limitations period, also known as tolling. The ‘discovery rule’ is a form of tolling since it may sometimes defer the start of the statute of limitations. There are other special circumstances that justify tolling. Minor children cannot exhaust their statute of limitations before adulthood. If a child files a claim for wrongful death of a parent, the claim can be filed many years later since the statute of limitation starts when the child turns 18 years old. Other circumstances that warrant tolling are if you have a mental disability and if your case involves intentional acts or fraud. As a general rule, the court will weigh the advantages of tolling to you against the disadvantages to the defendant.
The Common Claims for Wrongful Death
You can file a claim for wrongful death due to defective products if machinery malfunctions and your loved one dies. You could also sue a manufacturer for mislabeling products and failing to provide clear warnings of known dangers or potential hazards. Manufactures must bear responsibility if they provide the general public with unsafe products.
In case of a fatal car accident, you can file a lawsuit against an individual for negligence. The negligence could be due to speeding, driving while impaired, or reckless driving. You may file a claim against the driver or the vehicle owner; your claims may involve uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, claims on product liability and vehicle maintenance, and death benefits. Other claims may be related to construction work on the road or unsafe road conditions.
If a truck accident occasioned the wrongful death, the process might be more complicated since truck drivers and owners are governed by specific federal and state laws. Your case may involve employer liability claims, commercial insurance policies, and claims by first parties against the deceased's own insurance covers.
Since most motorcycles in Florida are not insured, if your loved one is killed in an accident involving a motorcycle you may file claims against the owner of the vehicle at fault, or the driver of the vehicle involved. You may also file a claim against the vehicle maintenance personnel or a product liability against the manufacturer.
Claims for wrongful death due to medical malpractice also known as medical negligence, occur when a doctor, hospital or medical provider deviates from usual standard and causes or contributes to the death of another person. If a patient dies as a result of medication provided by a medical practitioner without consulting the patient’s pre-existing conditions, you may file a suit for wrongful death. You may also file a case for wrongful death if a physician or medical facility provides substandard care or if a patient dies from drug interactions. Fatal drug interactions happen when a doctor or hospital fails to take into consideration all the medication the patient has taken, or a pharmacy dispenses the wrong prescription or dosage.
Moreover, the accidental death of a child at birth is also categorized as wrongful death due to medical negligence. If your child dies at birth, you have a right to sue for wrongful death due to medical malpractice. Additionally, it is possible for you to make claims if the victim's death resulted from a failure of biomedical devices. Such claims can be made against medical providers, drug manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies. You may get restitution for funeral expenses, out of pocket expenses, loss of services and support, and pain and suffering.
In Florida, the law on liquor liability allows you to file a claim for wrongful death arising from intoxication. You may recover compensation against a restaurant, a bar, a company, a homeowner or anybody who knowingly served alcohol to an alcoholic or a minor.
Under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, if your loved one dies after a slip and fall, you can recover money for loss of earnings, medical bills, loss of support, and pain and suffering among others. If death occurs from either slipping or falling in a theme park, you may file a case against the theme park, the ride manufacturers and the maintenance companies. If it occurs at a different premise other than a theme park, you may file a case against the property owners, the property manager or other parties whose negligent actions may have caused the accident.
In cases involving accidental shootings, you may file a lawsuit against the gun owner for death caused by his gun. If the weapon was used by somebody else, the gun owner may be held accountable for negligence by allowing unauthorized persons access to the weapon. You may also sue against the homeowner for negligence and inadequate safety precautions for gun storage.
The above claims are the most common in cases of wrongful death. However, other circumstances may necessitate a claim for wrongful death. You may file a claim for a victim of a crime or accidental pool drowning, bicycle accidents, airplane accidents, boat accidents, work-related deaths and death due to dangerous property conditions. You may also have to file a claim where insurance companies delay or deny you insurance benefits from the deceased’s life insurance. This often happens if death occurs within two years of the deceased taking out life insurance.
In general, if you can prove that the cause of death was either negligence, deliberate action or recklessness, you can file a case for wrongful death in court. For each wrongful death claim, the damages and amount you can claim are dependent on the specific conditions relating to the death of the victim and your relationship to the deceased.
Damages Recoverable in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A claim of wrongful death is a civil issue, and the negligent individual can only be held accountable in monetary terms. The state considers the criminal aspects of the case separately from the civil aspects.
Damages in your case of wrongful death will be defined by two separate periods. The first period runs from when the negligent act causing death occurred to the time of death. The second period covers the losses you and other dependents incur after the death occurs. The damages are calculated based on expert testimonies of witnesses such as actuaries and economists. Usually, there are three main types of damages available to you in your claim of wrongful death.
Economic damages cover the monetary contributions that the deceased would have provided to you if he or she had not died. They include medical and funeral expenses related to the death, loss of expected future earnings and loss of insurance benefits such as medical coverage and pension plans. Economic damages also include loss of support in terms of goods and services, loss of inheritance due to untimely death and loss of potential net collections for the victim’s estate.
Non-economic damages are less tangible but hold more value than economic damages. They include loss of companionship and love, loss of spousal consortium, and loss of nurturing, training, advice, and guidance. Non-economic damages also include loss of care and protection, and damages for pain and suffering of the deceased after the injury and before death, or mental anguish.
Punitive damages are a form of punishment to the defendant for malicious, reckless or intentional conduct. They include interests, attorneys' fees, and other legal costs. However, these damages may not be recoverable against some specific categories of defendants while for others, the limits are capped.
There are limits to how much you can claim for wrongful death. The limits for economic damages are lower than those of non-economic damages. There are also the practical caps placed by insurance and level of recoverability. If a person is insured but owns no assets, the person is not recoverable, and therefore, you can only claim up to the limit of insurance. If a person is recoverable above their insurance, the courts must decide how much can be recovered under Florida Statutes.
Limits on Damages Recoverable by Survivors
Claims for wrongful death are a means of relieving you of the losses from the death and placing them on the party responsible. The rationale is to hold the wrongdoer responsible for his actions and mitigate your suffering from the loss of your loved one. The claims help ease your financial burden of paying for funeral costs and adjusting to life without the deceased’s income. Depending on who brings the lawsuit, Florida law limits recovery of damages.
If you are a child, regardless of your age, you may recover lost service and support from the date of the victim’s injury to the date of death, loss of future support and services, and receive damages for loss of parental guidance and companionship. If a surviving spouse is absent, you may also receive damages for pain and suffering. When a surviving spouse is present, you are limited in what you may recover as a child if you are above 25 years. However, whether there is a surviving spouse or not, as an adult child, you cannot claim loss of parental companionship or pain and suffering if the wrongful death resulted from medical negligence.
If the victim was over 25 years, you could not recover pain and suffering as a parent except when no other survivors exist. Even without other survivors, you cannot recover damages if the wrongful death was a result of medical malpractice. If you are a parent of a child below 25 years, you may recover the value of lost ongoing support and services, loss of future support and services, psychological pain and suffering, and medical and funeral expenses incurred.
Who Can Sue Another Person for a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?
When a member of your family is killed through someone else’s negligence, you have a right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death on the victim’s behalf. Under the Wrongful Death Act, Florida restricts wrongful death lawsuits to specific close relatives. Only the personal representative can file a suit on behalf of all the beneficiaries. The personal representative is either named in the will or appointed by the court.
There are two categories of beneficiaries who are entitled to recover damages from wrongful death. First, is the estate which includes everything owned by the deceased and left to beneficiaries either in a will or as defined by Florida Statutes. The estate’s representative sues on behalf of some or all the estate. However, the available damages for this category are limited.
The second category consists of the survivors of the deceased who may also be part of the estate. However, they are entitled to varied types of damages which may attract higher settlements than the estate. Legally, the personal representative must include all survivors in the lawsuit. Under Florida’s wrongful death statute, you are considered a survivor if you are the deceased’s spouse, child, parent or a blood relative or adoptive sibling who was partially or wholly dependent on the victim for support and services. You may also be considered a survivor if you are a child born out of wedlock of the mother or the father if it can be proven that he assumed responsibility for child support.
Who Can be Sued for Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim may result from a wide array of fatal accidents, ranging from simple traffic accidents to complex product liability or medical malpractice cases. Individuals, government agencies, companies and employees can be legally held accountable for either acting intentionally or acting negligently.
If the death was caused by a car accident, you might bring a case against the driver who caused the accident, the individual or corporate owner of the car at fault, or the employer of the driver at fault. You may also file a product liability claim against the car manufacturer or a case against the maintenance mechanics for negligence. If a drunk driver who is a minor or an alcoholic killed the victim, the company or person who served that driver may be liable under a liquor liability, a homeowner or a general liability insurance cover.
If the victim died from a slip-and-fall accident, you can file claims against the property owner, the property manager, the cleaning company or the maintenance company. If the person died from an accidental shooting, you could sue the gun owner for recklessness. You may also sue the homeowner who may be held accountable, and his home insurance policy applied. If your family member died due to medical negligence, possible defendants include medical practitioners, medical care providers, health facilities, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical companies.
Generally, the defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit vary depending on the victim’s cause of death. However, some agencies or persons are legally immune to such suits. You, therefore, cannot sue them for the wrongful death of your loved one, even if you believe they were negligent in their actions.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Specializing in Wrongful Death Near Me
Losing a loved one due to another person’s negligence or recklessness is emotionally and physically draining. While you focus on dealing with the emotional loss, our lawyers at Clay County Personal Injury Attorney will help you file a claim for Wrongful Death. Call our Clay County Personal Injury Attorney at 904-494-8242, and we will assist you in recovering monetary damages to support you against the financial implications by the death of your loved one.