When a death occurs due to recklessness or negligence of another person or entity, it is termed as wrongful death. The law in Florida provides for the family of the victim a chance to file a civil suit against the party responsible for the wrongful death of their loved one. For one to successfully bring a lawsuit against the party responsible, the surviving family needs to engage an attorney to help. At Clay County Personal Injury Attorney, we are experienced in instituting wrongful death suits for our clients with excellent results.
Overview of Wrongful Death Claims in Florida
According to the statutes of Florida section 768.19, the death of an individual can be a result of wrongful acts, recklessness, negligence, or default by another entity or person. When this happens, the surviving family can have a suit filed for their wrongful death. Although it is not possible to replace a person with money, the courts want to give the family some remedy for the losses and the demise of their loved one.
The death of a person takes a significant toll on their loved ones. In some cases, it may result in financial difficulties, especially where the deceased was the breadwinner. The laws in Florida provide a means to lessen the financial burden to the surviving family, especially when another person or entity is responsible for causing the death.
Wrongful death compensation has various categories termed legally as damages when a person files a wrongful death suit successfully. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit instituted by the estate of the family of the deceased if the death was intentional or due to negligence of another party. Not every person can initiate a wrongful death suit against a particular party. The law provides a clear guideline of who can file a lawsuit on wrongful death. Later in this article, we will discuss in detail the parties that are legally permitted to file a wrongful death suit against another party.
Categories for Wrongful Death Damages
Typically, the damages in the wrongful death suit are found in two major groups. These categories are defined in two separate time frames.
In the first category, the family can get compensation for damages incurred by the victim from the time of the reckless act that resulted in their death, until the moment they die. For instance, if the deceased were involved in a car accident, the damages would cover from the accident to his /her demise. This means that even when the death occurred weeks from the accident, damages are counted from that point. However, the injuries from the accident must be the cause of death.
The damages sought by the family include medical costs, suffering, and pain the victim suffers, their lost wages as well as their burial and funeral expenses upon the demise of their loved one.
In the second category, the family seeks compensation for the damages they incur after the death of the victim. This category of damages is designed to compensate the surviving family the costs they have suffered because of the demise of their loved one. The laws in Florida state that the damages are to replace the income the deceased would have gained if they did not experience the wrongful death. The damages also include the wages the victim would have earned until their retirement if they were alive.
In Florida, the family is allowed to sue for the lost consortium. This means that the family can seek compensation for the deprivation of companionship and love. This is significant when the deceased is an adult that has left behind children and a spouse. The dependants enjoyed the fellowship and guidance of the deceased and have lost it.
Who is Allowed to Get Damages from a Wrongful Death Suit
In deciding the damages that should be awarded in a lawsuit for wrongful death, there are various factors the court will take into consideration. One of the significant factors is the relationship the deceased shared with the surviving family. Usually, compensation for wrongful death is awarded to the following:
- Spouse – When a person suffers wrongful death, and they were married, the living spouse can sue for lost companionship and the emotional trauma they suffer due to the death. If the deceased was the provider, the surviving spouse could sue for lost income and the financial losses incurred following the death.
- Children – Children are also eligible for compensation for the death of their parents. The court can award those damages due to the loss of their companionship with the dead parent. Compensation can also be for the support and comfort they received from the deceased. It is important to note that only minor children can be compensated for this but not adult children.
- Parents – If the deceased is a minor, the parents can recover compensation for the trauma they suffer emotionally and lost companionship. However, if the child was an adult, the parents cannot be compensated for this.
In some cases, the court can award punitive damages to the family of the deceased. These are available where the respondent was grossly negligent and reckless in their actions that lead to death. The defendant is ordered to pay punitive damages to deter such behavior from the respondent or others in the future.
What Damages Can One Sue For
A case of wrongful death is categorized as a civil suit. This means the family or the estate of the deceased brings up the case to court and not the state. The liability for wrongful death is expressed in monetary value only. A criminal case regarding the wrongful death can be brought up in court by the state. The cases are different because they address distinct concerns. Criminal cases do not result in payment of damages to the surviving family. Only civil cases are designed for this.
According to the statutes of Florida section 768.21, specific rules must be followed in paying damages for wrongful death. Some of the damages a family can sue for include:
- The support the deceased provided to his or her family
- The value of lost companionship, care, protection or guidance by the deceased
- The suffering and pain both emotionally and mentally parents may suffer when their child dies
- The expenses incurred for medical treatment as well as funeral costs sustained by the family
- The surviving family can also recover damages for lost income, other earnings and benefits the deceased could have received if they stayed alive
- Damages for the loss of possible accumulated earnings either from their estate or the estate would have earned if the victim lived
- If the estate paid for the funeral and medical expenses, compensation for the same
When to File a Wrongful Death Suit in Florida
Every state has a statute of limitations that guide on time limits that a person is permitted to file a suit legally. In Florida, filing of a wrongful death suit must be done in two years from the date of death, as stipulated in section 95.11(4)(d) of the Florida Statutes. However, certain circumstances may result in the postponement of this date. Hiring an attorney is essential when filing a wrongful death suit because he or she can guide you on when the expiry date is for the statute of limitations. If one fails to bring a wrongful lawsuit within the set time, then the right to sue is lost on them.
Filing a Wrongful Death Suit in Florida
Every person hopes for a long life for their loved ones. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. People from every walk of life and age are killed daily. Causes of death vary either through vehicle accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, crime, negligence, and abuse, falls, among others.
When a person sues for wrongful death of their loved one, it means that their death was not natural but was a result of another person’s recklessness or negligence. Ideally, wrongful death is believed to be preventable, giving a surviving family reason to sue for their untimely death. If one wants to file a wrongful death claim, this must be done before the expiry of the statute of limitations, as discussed above.
When suing for wrongful death, your attorney must be able to prove various elements of the case. If one can determine the following elements, it would mean they have a solid case and stand to recover damages. These elements include:
- Negligence – The defendant acted recklessly and negligently that resulted in the death of the victim
- Breach of duty – The deceased was owed a duty by the defendant, but the defendant breached the duty, causing the death
- Causation – Negligence, and recklessness of the defendant directly resulted in the death of the victim
- Damages – The death of the victim resulted in various damages to the family, like medical costs, burial and funeral expenses, emotional damages, and lost income
The Steps Followed in Filing a Wrongful Death Case
When litigation for wrongful death is triggered, there is a step by step process that is crucial for you to follow. These steps include:
- Get in Touch with a Skilled Lawyer
Provide all the necessary details regarding the death of your loved one. Try and not leave any information out regardless of how insignificant it may seem. A list of witnesses is crucial to your case. If you have witnesses willing to talk to your lawyer, provide their contacts and address.
- Your Attorney will Carry Out Investigations into the Death of Your Loved One
They will hold interviews with the witnesses, evaluate the medical records of the deceased as well as the autopsy report. In case of any questions, your attorney will seek clarification from you or the relevant parties, such as law enforcement officers.
- Filing a Wrongful Death Suit
Once your attorney has established the merit of your case, he or she will file a suit for wrongful death and notify the respondent of the allegations against them. This process is known as the service of process. Because of the principle of jurisdiction that controls the court’s authority in decision making, your attorney will advise you where your lawsuit will be filed. A court that lacks jurisdiction over the claims of the parties cannot make decisions regarding the case. Remember to give the correct date the victim died because the lawsuit must be filed in two years.
- Discovery Process
This is where both sides request information from each other. The evidence you have against the defendant may be requested for, while your attorney cross-examines the defendant. In some instances, your attorney can ask for the protection of some privileged information from discovery. Should the defense refuse to hand over important information and documents, the court has the mandate to intervene. This process aims to help the plaintiff, as well as the defendant, prepare their arguments adequately, and avoid surprises.
- Trial Process
When the process of discovery is closed, the trial is set to begin. The time a trial takes varies from one case to the next based on its complexity and availability of a jury and judge. During the trial, both sides will present their version of events and cross-examine each other’s witnesses.
- Court’s Verdict
After the presentation of the case from either side, the jury or judge will decide on the case. If either party is not satisfied with the judgment, there is room for an appeal.
Despite the above-outlined stages of the lawsuit, various variables can arise, affecting the process. For instance, either side can file to bring the case to an end before a trial commences. If there is conclusive evidence to the case, either party can request the judge to decide on the legal question. This may be preferable instead of a lengthy trial to be determined by the jury. This process is known as a motion for summary judgment.
As earlier discussed, a claim for wrongful death is a civil case, not a criminal case. This means that there is no requirement for much evidence, but the evidence provided must be credible. Because of the need to meet the burden of proof, the plaintiff needs to hire a personal injury lawyer. An attorney knows the legal requirements and expectations and will be able to advise you if you have met the criteria to get compensated.
Trials for wrongful death can be emotionally draining. If the plaintiff or defendant does not want to go through a court trial, it is possible to settle. The defendant or the plaintiff, in most cases, will ask their attorney to engage the defendant's attorney for mediation. A lot of wrongful death cases are settled out of court when the parties agree. If the mediation process flops or an agreement becomes challenging to reach, your attorney can now file the case in court for a trial.
Starting a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Once a person has established that they are allowed to file a suit for wrongful death and are within the statute of limitations, he or she can now commence civil litigation. Your attorney will begin by filing pleadings. These are the initial legal documents when initiating a lawsuit.
The initial document of the pleadings is the petition or complaint. It provides an overview of the case filed against the respondent. It also identifies the entities or persons involved in the lawsuit. Additionally, the lawful basis for the jurisdiction of the court is equally stated in this document. The complaint also contains a section known as the prayer for relief or demand for judgment. This is where the plaintiff says what they want to be demanded from the defendant by the court, like paying off damages.
The petition is necessary for providing the respondent with the facts, and the basis of the plaintiff's claims. These facts, however, are usually founded on the knowledge of the plaintiff. In some cases, the facts are out of information gathered from a third party. Sometimes, the plaintiff would form a conclusion that the circumstances leading to the death of the victim happened as they have described. This makes it essential for the defendant to be aware of the claims to formulate their defense.
The complaint document is not supposed to be lengthy. It is supposed to be a precise, short, and simple document stating the claims by the plaintiff but does not detail the entire story.
Summons is the other document necessary when commencing a lawsuit. This is a court order indicating where the suit will be litigated or heard from. It informs the defendant that a suit has been filed against them, referring to the filed petition or complaint. The summons also sets a time frame for the defendant to file a response or request a dismissal.
The repercussions of responding late are also outlined in the summons. They may include deciding on the case without the respondent. If this happens, the defendant is held by the outcome even when they never participated. A failure of the defendant to respond on time to a suit will result in them being in default.
Summons are typically form-documents that include the court’s name, the participant's names, and the docket number or the case number. In the rest of the summons tells the defendant about the suit, this is known as notice.
The defendant is served the summons alongside the complaint or petition after confirming their identity. This process of presenting the documents to the respondent is known as the service of process. When the summons is properly served upon the defendant, the court now has jurisdiction or power upon the case. This translates that the court has the mandate to make decisions on the case that may affect the respondent.
The defendant’s attorney will file a response or answer to the petition. The response is aimed at answering each issue raised in the petition with the typical response being insufficient, denied, or admitted knowledge. The response or answer, in most cases, sets forth defenses that legally give reasons why the plaintiff’s damages are not the responsibility of the defendant. These defenses can also be the foundation of a motion for dismissing the case.
The defendant can also file a counterclaim if she or he has a claim against the plaintiff. This claim must have resulted from the same situation that resulted in the plaintiff’s complaint. A counterclaim typically is raised together with the answer in the counterclaims section. A counterclaim is written similarly to a petition.
In case a defendant has filed a counterclaim in their answer to the plaintiff’s petition, the plaintiff is expected to submit a reply or response. In the replay, the plaintiff will deny, admit, or claim to have no information. The reply should also show defenses for the counterclaim as was in the answer.
Cross-claims can also arise in a wrongful death suit. This happens when there are several parties aligned as plaintiffs or defendants. The parties, in this case, want to file a claim against the other.
When an individual is sued in a cross-claim, they will be expected to answer to the claim similar to the original answer after the first complaint. In this case, the defendant must consider the various defenses that can be applied for the claim.
A defendant can also raise a third-party complaint. Once a plaintiff sues a defendant, the defendant may have reasons that are legally acceptable to pass the liability to another entity. For instance, if your loved one died as a result of a car accident, you as the plaintiff may sue the driver. However, if this driver was employed, he or she may want to pass the liability of the wrongful death to their employer. If the defendant files the third-party complaint, it means the employer will be brought as a defendant in the case.
The person or entity sued on a third-party complaint must also answer to the complaint just as the original petition.
Finding an Wrongful Death Attorney Near Me
Losing a loved one is not easy and, worse, seeking compensation for their wrongful death. The process is emotionally and financially draining to the surviving family. Although no amount of money can compensate for life, the provision for monetary compensation for the loss gives the family some relief. One needs to make sure that they stand to win their compensation claim. This is possible, especially when you engage a knowledgeable attorney to seek compensation on your behalf. At Clay County Personal Injury Attorney, we understand the pain you are going through and the need to be compensated. Call our office at 904-494-8242, and let us pursue the recovery of damages for you.