While a wrongful death scenario can have an emotional impact on your family, it may also cause financial hardship. The Clay County Personal Attorney can help you explore legal means to address this type of hardship. Our firm is reputable across Clay County, Florida for helping clients pursue injury claims. In this article, we will cover the types of damages you can recover when filing a wrongful death claim.
What Does Wrongful Death Mean?
A wrongful death case is a civil action against an entity or person that is liable for causing someone else’s death. The case can be brought by the estate or the surviving family members of the deceased. For a civil action to qualify under a wrongful death case, the deceased must have succumbed to the intentional actions or negligence of an entity or a person.
Who is the Beneficiary of the Damages from a Wrongful Death Suit?
Damages for wrongful death cases are usually awarded to children, parents or spouses. The surviving children (minor children) can get the damages (which include support and comfort) for losing their relationship with their deceased parent. Consequently, parents of the deceased may recover the damages (for lost relationship and emotional trauma) if the victim was a minor child. Wrongful death damages awarded to a surviving spouse help address the emotional trauma and lost companionship the spouse suffered.
Florida courts examine the various factors surrounding the relationships the deceased had with the surviving family members in compliance with Florida's statutes. Florida Statutes 768.16 to 768.26 are collectively cited as Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. Under Florida Statute 768.17, the state has the public policy to shift any losses suffered in a wrongful death case from the deceased’s surviving family members to the alleged respondent. Explained below are the terms used in wrongful death suits filed in Florida:
- Survivors - The deceased’s parents, children or spouse and any adoptive sisters and brothers or blood relatives. Survivors also include children born out of wedlock from the mother’s side but not on the father’s side unless the father is assigned a child support responsibility.
- Support - Contributions that are in the form of money.
- Minor children - Children below the age of 25 years
- Net accumulations - A portion of the deceased’s expected salary or net business income (inclusive of pension benefits) that the deceased would retain as savings or leave for the surviving family members. The salary and net business income is the deceased’s total income after deducting taxes.
- Services - Tasks (chores) that the deceased used to perform. The tasks must leave a financial burden for them to be considered as services in this context.
Who Has the Legal Responsibility to Pursue Wrongful Death Damages?
Florida Statute 768.20 assigns the responsibility of recovering wrongful death damages to a deceased’s personal representative. The representative (a personal injury lawyer) should ensure that the survivors rightfully receive the damages. If a respondent dies pending or before the suit, his or her personal representative will be considered as the respondent.
As the person filing a civil lawsuit in a wrongful death case, you will be referred to as a plaintiff. Your role is to bring the wrongful death claim on behalf of the surviving family members. You may expect a Florida court to appoint a personal representative or executor of the estate if the decedent left a will. The personal representative or executor will resume the role of a plaintiff once appointed.
A respondent in a wrongful death case is the entity or person against whom the suit is brought. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff will allege that the respondent’s intentional and negligent actions caused the decedent’s untimely death. After filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove the following elements before recovering any damages:
Duty of Care
Your claim must indicate that the respondent owed the decedent a duty of care. For instance, if the cause of death was machine failure, the plaintiff needs to prove that it was the respondent’s duty to have the machine working properly. The party with the duty of care is liable for any negligent or reckless actions disregarding other people’s lives, safety or rights.
A “Duty of Care” Breach
Once the duty of care is established, it is the role of the person in charge not to breach it. For a situation involving machine failure, the respondent may breach the duty of care by disregarding occupational safety and health laws. The laws may have prohibited operators from running machines above particular speed or temperature limits.
Proving the duty of care and breach of duty of care is not enough to build a case aimed at recovering damages. As a plaintiff, you will need to show that the offender’s particular conduct resulted in the wrongful death. The respondent’s attorney may argue that the decedent’s death was as a result of something else if you fail to prove a direct causative factor.
The Burden of Proof in Wrongful Death Cases
Your claim must meet the burden of proof regarding negligence elements before recovering any damages. Evidence provided by your personal injury lawyer to the court should be credible and to prove negligence on the side of the respondent. Unlike criminal cases where “beyond a reasonable doubt” is the basic standard for the burden of proof, civil cases have a much lower burden of proof.
Understanding the Types of Damages You Can Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim
Under Florida Statute 768.21, all potential beneficiaries of wrongful death damages should be listed when filing a wrongful death claim. Their relationship to the deceased should also be explained in the complaint. When your loved one dies because of someone else’s negligent or reckless actions, you may file a wrongful death claim as a grieving family member.
It is true to say that the damages will not entirely make up for your devastating loss. However, they can decrease the financial burden placed on your family by the wrongful death. As a surviving family member, you can recover three types of damages as discussed below:
- Economic Damages
Florida Statute 768.81 considers various costs as part of economic damages. They include past and future lost income/revenue reduced to the current value, lost support/services, medical expenses, and funeral expenses. Others include loss of personal property and other economic loss suffered as a result of someone else's reckless or negligent actions.
Economic damages have a monetary value attached to them, unlike non-economic ones. They may include lost wages, medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, and childcare costs. To quantify economic damages, forensic accountants usually evaluate the deceased performance against those of his/her colleagues. This strategy makes it easy to understand how the individual would have performed if the wrongful death had not occurred.
The other method for quantifying economic damages involves calculating the damages based on the underlying contracts at the time the deceased died. These methods help foster fairness when compensation is being awarded to the surviving family members. Here are the various types of economic damages you can recover from a wrongful death claim:
Loss of Income
As one of the most significant damages that you can recover, loss of income can be awarded if the deceased was the main income earner in your family. You may seek the lost income to help cover the financial needs of the deceased's dependants. A Florida court may request an economist to calculate the salary the deceased would have earned in the future. The calculations are usually based on life expectancy, inflation and last income earned.
You can recover the medical bills your deceased family member incurred before dying. The costs may include ambulance ride costs, hospital admission fees, fees for medical tests and treatment fees. Depending on the type of ailment and status of the health facility, these costs may strain you (the grieving family member) financially.
For any wrongful death case, there are potential funeral costs to be incurred by the surviving family members. The costs may include morgue costs, hearse transportation fees, and burial expenses. Since a wrongful death case is usually sudden, the survivors need this compensation to give their deceased family members a proper send-off.
Loss of Benefits
Besides wages, a working adult may receive benefits including house allowances or health care plans. Other benefits include retirement benefits, Social Security benefits and pension plans. You may receive these benefits as economic damages based on what your deceased family member was earning.
Child Care Costs
Child care costs help support the upbringing of the child a deceased individual left behind. They may include housekeeping costs and fees for domestic services needed to sustain a child's life. Others include clothing, school, entertainment, food, and transportation costs. In most cases, the deceased's spouse, sibling or parent is assigned the duty of caring for the child after receiving these economic damages.
- Non-economic Damages
Non-economic damages in a wrongful death case are claimed against intangible things including emotional and physical distress, severe pain and loss of the enjoyment of life. Also referred to as quality-of-life damages, non-economic damages may be awarded to the survivors or estate just like economic ones. When determining the quality-of-life damages, courts usually consider the incalculable personal losses you or your family has suffered.
Under Florida Statute 766.118, wrongful death is among the determinants for seeking non-economic damages. The wrongful death situation may have been caused by the negligence of a practitioner or non-practitioner respondents. Either way, your claim must show that the respondent acted in a wrongful manner to increase your chances of recovering non-economic damages. Acting in a wrongful manner may imply that one acted with malicious purpose, in bad faith or with willful disregard of other people's property, safety or rights.
A Florida court may consider variables such as loss of love and affection, loss of companionship and pain and suffering to determine non-economic damages. The respondent is expected to facilitate them as a way of showing that he/she regrets his/her negligent actions that lead to the death of your loved one. The non-economic damages a surviving family can recover are as follows:
The Joy of Life
When your loved one dies due to someone else’s recklessness or negligence, he or she loses the enjoyment of life. The joy of life, here, refers to the pleasure, utility or satisfaction derived from life apart and separate from your income/wealth. Death deprives people the ability to lead life and enjoy what it has to offer.
Pain and Suffering
Surviving family members of a deceased individual are likely to be in pain and experience grief due to the passing of their loved one. They may be sorrowful for a long time if the deceased was their main source of happiness. It is wise for the respondent to consider the pain and suffering endured by the survivors when compensating them for their loss.
Loss of Instruction, Guidance, Protection or Companionship
Losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligent actions may leave you without a companion, protector, lover or instructor. As a survivor, you may recover loss of companionship, instruction, protection or guidance if you previously got them from a victim of wrongful death. This type of loss is considered as a non-economic one since there is no financial value that can be attached to it.
- Punitive Damages
Courts may award you (a surviving family member) punitive damages based on the events surrounding your loved one’s death. Punitive damages help punish the guilty party in a personal injury or wrongful death case and prevent the same accident from happening again. You can recover them if the perpetrator’s reckless actions resulted in the death of your loved one.
Also referred to as exemplary damages, punitive damages are awarded to punish a respondent in a wrongful death case for acting negligently. Courts award them after deeming compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages) as an inadequate remedy for your loss. They help identify law violations that are difficult to detect. Since they are normally paid in excess, punitive damages only take effect in special cases one there is evidence linking the respondent to a reckless act.
Pursuant to Florida Statute 768.72, claims for punitive damages are only permitted in Florida when there is evidence providing a reasonable basis for seeking them. The evidence should find the respondent guilty of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, which leads to someone else’s wrongful death. FL Statute 768.72 2(a) defines intentional misconduct as an act committed despite having knowledge of the wrongful conduct. Gross negligence, on the other hand, refers to an act of recklessness constituting a disregard for other people’s rights, safety or life.
What are the Impacts of Only Paying Economic Damages in Full and Limiting Other Damages?
Lost earnings make up a large portion of the economic damages targeted to the surviving family members. When a respondent only pays the economic damages, he/she devalues the type of life and pleasure the deceased and survivors would have enjoyed. The truth is that there is more to life than what people earn from their income-generating activities.
What are the Limitations to the Damages You Can Recover in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under Florida Statute 768.19, the duty of filing a wrongful death claim is assigned to the personal representative of the decedent. You may also file the claim if your name is included in the will of your deceased family member or friend. In the event a personal representative is not named in the will, a Florida court will assign the duty to an appropriate person. As a personal representative, you will be acting on behalf of the survivors or the estate.
Any actions taken by the personal representative for the decedent's benefit must also mention every interested person in the surviving family or estate. The beneficiaries are only limited to spouses, blood relatives, adoptive relatives or parents who depended on the deceased for services/support. The personal representative is expected to act in honor of the law and the deceased wishes (if a will was left).
What is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims in Florida?
The statute of limitations surrounding a wrongful death claim in Florida is two years from the decedent's date of death. Though rare, the date may be postponed or tolled due to unavoidable circumstances. Consult with your personal injury lawyer to know if the deadline changes.
Is Your Wrongful Death Case Worth Pursuing
Two factors including the respondent's access to money and insurance policy help determine whether you can make a wrongful death claim. You need to figure out a way the respondent (an entity or individual responsible for the decedent's death) can pay for their actions if they do not have any insurance coverage. Your personal injury attorney can advise you on the available options when you are in this situation.
How Different is the Death of a Child to That of an Adult in a Wrongful Death Claim?
The amount of damages awarded after the wrongful death of a child may differ with those awarded to the wrongful death of an adult. Since children have not yet gotten the opportunity to generate income or contribute to a household, the amount of compensation for their wrongful death may be less. Unlike adults, children may not have dependents who will suffer financially for their loss. Regardless of this fact, their loss is painful and terrible just like that of adults.
Which Factors Determine the Amount of Damages Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case?
The value of a wrongful death settlement depends on different factors and variables related to your case. You should understand these factors and reasons as they have a tremendous effect on your civil claim. With guidance from a personal injury attorney, it is possible to overcome challenges brought by some of them. Discussed below are these factors and variables in detail:
- Loses Attributed to the Decedent and the Survivors
The number of claimants pursuing a wrongful death suit determines the value of the settlement itself. A case involving an unemployed young man with no kids may not yield as much damages as that involving an adult who left a wife and four kids. Either way, the court will always consider the total losses incurred when awarding the compensation.
- The Jury’s View on How Valuable a Deceased Life Was
A jury (if the case proceeds to trial) will likely consider a deceased person notable for doing good things in the community for a higher settlement than one who leads a life characterized by violent behavior. The type of relationship you had with the decedent may also be considered in the settlement. If the deceased left a will, it might reveal the person who had the closest bond to him/her.
- The Respondent’s Defense Strategies
The value of the wrongful death damages may be increased if the respondent is viewed as a violent, reckless or negligent person or entity. The type of witnesses presented by the respondent may also help weaken or strengthen your claim. It may be challenging to recover the damages if the court agrees with the offender’s defenses that rule out negligence or reckless as the cause of the deceased’s death.
- Your Attorney’s Skill and Reputation
Hiring a personal injury lawyer who has successfully handled various wrongful death suits is a great idea. The attorney may be more knowledgeable in the nuances and status involved with such suits in your area of residence. Your lawyer's competency, decades of experience and a good reputation may improve your chances of getting well-deserved damages for your loss.
Seek Legal Assistance on Making Wrongful Death Claims Near Me
If you or your loved one have lost a friend or family member due to someone else's negligent actions, hire a personal injury lawyer immediately. Working with the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney can give you the peace of mind needed for recovering wrongful death damages. We learned over the years that every client has unique legal needs by handling various personal injury cases in Clay County, Florida. Let us figure out the right approach for you, talk to us today by calling 904-494-8242!