In Florida, when one person’s negligence is the cause of another person’s abrupt and accidental death, the surviving family members usually have the right to seek damages with a wrongful death claim – and with legal assistance from the right Orlando wrongful death attorney.
Dangers lurk everywhere. Every year, hundreds of hazardous consumer products are recalled. Medical malpractice is a leading cause of death. A pharmacy could accidentally give you the wrong prescription. Two to three dozen people in the U.S. die each year from dog bites.
And more than 10,000 people in the United States are still losing their lives every year in alcohol-related traffic accidents. The vast majority of these deaths are “wrongful” deaths.
WHY SHOULD YOUR FAMILY TAKE LEGAL ACTION AFTER A WRONGFUL DEATH?
Obviously, a wrongful death claim cannot bring back someone you love, but a claim that prevails can help the surviving family members of wrongful death victims deal with their expenses and move into the future without the additional burden of financial hardship.
Precisely which persons may file a wrongful death claim in Florida? And what damages can they expect to obtain? Is there a time limit for initiating a wrongful death action in our state? Keep reading, and you’ll learn the answers that every family needs to know.
HOW IS WRONGFUL DEATH HANDLED IN FLORIDA?
The law in Florida states that when a person’s death is the result of a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract,” the deceased person’s estate may file a claim seeking compensation for the losses related to the wrongful death.
While many states allow any immediate or dependent family member to file a wrongful death claim, Florida requires that the claim must be filed by the personal representative of the wrongful death victim’s estate.
If a personal representative has not been named in the decedent’s will or another estate planning document, the court may designate a representative. Whether named by the decedent or the court, in most cases that personal representative is the decedent’s spouse, parent, or adult child.
WHO IS ENTITLED TO DAMAGES AFTER A WRONGFUL DEATH?
Personal representatives must ensure that all qualified surviving family members who are directly affected by the wrongful death are included in the claim.
In Florida, a wrongful death victim’s relatives who qualify to receive damages include:
- the decedent’s spouse, parents, and children
- blood relatives and adopted siblings who are financially “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent”
When parents are unwed, a child may win damages if the mother is a wrongful death victim, but if it’s the father, a child may obtain damages only if the father recognized the child as his own and contributed (or was obligated to contribute) to the child’s support.
IS THERE A DEADLINE FOR BRINGING LEGAL ACTION?
Every state sets a time limit – a statute of limitations – for filing wrongful death claims. In most cases, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Florida is two years from the date of the death, with only very narrow exceptions.
If you file a claim, your wrongful death lawyer will investigate what happened, identify the person or persons with liability, and fight for your family’s best interests until a settlement is reached or a verdict is rendered.
Wrongful death cases in Florida are almost always resolved out-of-court when the lawyers for both sides negotiate privately. The right Orlando wrongful death attorney will negotiate diligently and forthrightly for your family – and for justice.
WHAT COMPENSATION IS AVAILABLE TO SURVIVING FAMILY MEMBERS?
If those negotiations do not produce a reasonable settlement offer, your lawyer may recommend going to trial and asking a jury to order the payment of the damages that your family needs and deserves.
Florida law specifies that a surviving family member is entitled to compensation for:
- loss of the services and support that the decedent provided
- loss of guidance and companionship
- emotional suffering, pain, and anguish
- funeral and final medical expenses
The decedent’s estate may additionally seek compensation for lost wages and other income, including the decedent’s lost earning capacity – the income he or she would have been reasonably expected to earn before retirement age.
HOW DO YOU PROVE WRONGFUL DEATH?
Wrongful death cases in Florida are very similar in most ways to personal injury cases.
The plaintiff (the estate’s personal representative) and his or her attorney must prove four “elements” of the case, just like a plaintiff in a personal injury case:
- The allegedly negligent party, the defendant, had an obligation – a duty of care – to the victim.
- The defendant breached that duty of care through negligent action (or negligent inaction).
- The negligence was a direct reason for the victim’s wrongful death.
- The family’s losses are demonstrable and quantifiable, and the family should be compensated for that amount.
WHAT IS A DUTY OF CARE?
A duty of care is the general legal “duty” we all owe one another, although the “level” of care that may be legally required differs in different situations. When we drive, for instance, we “owe” a “duty” to others to drive safely and prudently.
Plaintiffs and their attorneys in wrongful death cases must show that a defendant’s breach of the duty of care was a direct cause of the victim’s wrongful death.
Along with compensation, Florida courts in some wrongful death cases will also require the defendant to pay punitive damages to the plaintiff or plaintiffs. Punitive damages are meant to punish defendants so that similar negligent behavior does not occur again.
HOW WILL A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWYER HELP YOUR FAMILY?
Who may be held liable for a wrongful death in Florida? If your family needs to file a wrongful death claim, a good Orlando wrongful death lawyer will work diligently to identify the liable parties and to uncover every potential source of compensation.
If you suddenly, accidentally lose someone you love because someone else was careless, it will be hard at first to deal with anything but grief. Still, you should reach out to a wrongful death lawyer who will fight for your family’s rights and for the damages you are entitled to by law.