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The death of a loved one is a terrible experience which no one deserves. It gets worse if the death could have been avoided but for simple negligence. Florida experiences an awful lot of wrongful deaths. The good news is that you can file a claim for damages if you lose your loved one wrongfully. You can contact the wrongful death lawyers at VG Law to start the process.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

How does a Wrongful Death Claim Work in Florida?

Every American state has its laws defining wrongful deaths. According to Florida Statutes section 768.19, wrongful death results from the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of another person. Furthermore, the event would have entitled the injured party to file a personal injury claim if they hadn't died. 

You can file a wrongful death action against the party who caused the injury that led to your relative's death. This is a civil lawsuit to be filed in civil court. 

A wrongful death claim aims to grant the deceased's estate financial compensation for their losses. In Florida, the aim isn't to punish the responsible parties. In this manner, wrongful death claims are different from criminal trials. 

Elements of Wrongful Death Claims

There are two primary ways a wrongful death action can begin. For instance, it could start as a personal injury that leads to the injured party's death. It could also be an instant death caused by another person's actions, such as in a fatal accident. 

Either way, to establish a wrongful death claim, you must prove the following facts:

  • There was the death of a human being
  • The deceased person died because of another person's actions
  • The relevant action was a negligent or intentional act
  • There are survivors of the deceased person harmed by the loss
  • The deceased's estate has lost services and finances because of the death

Proving these elements in court or to an insurance company can be challenging. Therefore, it would be best to hire an excellent wrongful death attorney. A lawyer can give you legal advice and represent you at trial or settlement negotiations. 

In Florida, some prevalent causes of wrongful deaths include:

  1. Wrongful acts, including violent crimes and felonies, whether the DA filed criminal charges against the person responsible.
  2. Intentional acts, defaults, and breach of contract.
  3. Negligent acts such as ignoring safety rules and procedures or a property owner failing to warn people of potential dangers.

Real-life Types of Wrongful Deaths

It's essential to understand the different types of wrongful death claims. These are everyday occurrences that can result in death. They include:

  • Accidental birth death
  • Fatal truck accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Defective products
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Nursing home neglect
  • Fatal car accident
  • Slip and falls
  • Workplace injuries and sicknesses
  • Fatal animal bites
  • Assault 

Clearly, in Florida, an auto accident is the most likely cause of wrongful death. Essentially, any harm that can hurt and kill a person may result in wrongful death.

What Damages Are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

There are many legal remedies that the estate of the deceased person may recover against the fault party. The court may award specific damages to the different survivors of the deceased person. Survivors include the decedent's spouse, children, and parents. This list can also include any blood relatives wholly or partly dependent on the decedent for support or services. 

Below, we examine the damages available for different classes of wrongful death beneficiaries.

Survivors 

Every survivor may recover damages for the lost support and services from the date of the deceased's injury until their death. This award will also include interest and future loss of services. Furthermore, the court may also award medical or funeral expenses to a survivor who covered them.

Spouse 

The deceased person's husband or wife may get fair compensation for their loss of companionship and protection. The law refers to this as loss of consortium. A spouse can also claim for mental anguish, pain, and suffering.  

Minor Children

A minor child and other adult children where there is no surviving spouse may recover the following:

  • Lost parental companionship
  • Lost instruction and guidance
  • Mental anguish, pain, and suffering

Parents of a Deceased Minor Child

Parents of minors in Florida can recover compensation for mental anguish and the pain, and suffering caused by the loss. A minor child in Florida is anyone under the age of 25 years, irrespective of the age of majority. The parents of an adult child can also recover if no other person survived the child; that is, the deceased has no child or spouse.

The Personal Representative

The deceased's personal representative may also recover the following for the deceased's estate:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Medical expenses

Funeral and medical damages must have been charged against the decedent's estate. If not, they must have been paid by or on behalf of the decedent. This condition would exclude the amounts a survivor may have paid. Other recoverable amounts by the personal representative include:

wrongful death funeral
  • Loss of earnings of the deceased person
  • Loss of the prospective net accumulations of the estate reduced to the present money value.

Florida law requires that the complaint identify all the parties that'll benefit from the wrongful death damages. The complaint must also allege the relationships of the potential beneficiaries with the wrongful death victim.

Can a Family Member Sue for Wrongful Death?

If your loved one lost their life in Florida because of another's actions, you might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A family member can sue for wrongful death. However, not all family members can sue. Only a restricted class of relatives can initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. Furthermore, the right to sue comes in the order of priority. 

The Florida Wrongful Death Act lists the people who can file a wrongful death claim. They include:

  • The deceased's spouse
  • The deceased's children (note that the minor children will receive greater damages than the adult children)
  • The deceased's parents

These are the primary beneficiaries in a Florida wrongful death claim. They rank higher than every other family member. Other family members can sue if they relied wholly or partly on the deceased for support. This would also include adopted siblings of the deceased. Essentially, asides from the deceased's primary family, the other family members must suffer significant financial loss from the death to be eligible to sue. 

Furthermore, a child born to unmarried parents can sue if the mother is killed wrongfully. If the father is deceased and the child was dependent on him for support during his life, the child can also file a wrongful death suit. 

The decedent's personal representative can also file a claim. They can bring the suit on behalf of the deceased's estate and any survivors. The personal representative is often stated in the decedent's will. Oftentimes, the personal representative is also a family member in the lists above. However, if a personal representative isn't named, the court can appoint one. 

Any person who doesn't fall into any of the classes mentioned above cannot maintain a wrongful death lawsuit. The court will dismiss such a claim. It would help to get a lawyer's opinion on which of your family members is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. This would prevent such relatives from wasting resources to file a claim for which they aren't eligible.

Is It Better To Settle Out of Court or Go to Trial?

In Florida, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit in court or accept a settlement from the responsible party and their insurer. You can still accept a settlement at any time during litigation. Which option you choose ought to be after considering several factors. It would help if you didn't make this decision without a wrongful death attorney's input. A lawyer would have had many such cases and can give you the best advice considering your case's facts. Also, consider the views of everyone that the decision will affect.

Advantages of a Settlement Agreement (Disadvantages of Litigation)

  • You can settle your case fast and avoid wasting time with court processes. 
  • You can escape the unpredictability and publicity of a trial
  • You'll certainly get your money before the settlement becomes valid
  • You may pay fewer attorney fees 
  • Settlement negotiations are lower than litigation expenses
  • Settlements are also final and usually not appealable 

Advantages of Trial (Disadvantages of a Settlement)

  • The court can award you greater damages than you can get in a settlement, such as punitive damages (obviously the fault party and their insurance company cannot agree to a punitive element in the settlement)
  • The court can rule emphatically on the fault of the other party
  • A trial can help give you and the entire family some closure

Whatever your decision, you must bear the Florida Statute of Limitations in mind. Some relevant factors to consider before choosing a settlement or trial include:

  • The amount involved
  • An assessment of your winning chances
  • The strength of the evidence of both sides
  • The implications of losing in court
  • The enforceability of any judgment and the other side's ability to pay
  • Your family members and the other party's preference

Furthermore, even if you take a settlement, Florida Statutes section 768.25 provides court approval before a settlement becomes effective. This will apply where a survivor objects to the amount or apportionment between beneficiaries. You will also require court approval if the settlement affects a minor or an incompetent survivor.

Is There a Time Limit To Sue for Wrongful Death?

You don't have all the time in the world to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida. All American states have legislation stating the timeframe within which you must file different civil lawsuits. This piece of legislation is called a Statute of Limitations. The relevant Florida law is Florida Statutes chapter 95.11 (4) (d). It applies to actions other than recovery for real property.

Florida's Period of Limitations for wrongful deaths is two years. This means that you must initiate your lawsuit within two years from the time of death. Your time starts to count from the day the deceased person dies. It doesn't mean that you must complete the legal proceedings before two years expires. It's sufficient that you have filed the claim in court.

If you don't file your claim within this period, the law may bar your case forever. If you didn't study the law, you might be unaware of this time limitation. That's why it's essential to hire the best wrongful death attorney. The statute of limitations applies whether the death was caused by an auto accident or any other type of accident. 

The rationale behind the Period of Limitations is to get plaintiffs to file their claims early. There are many disadvantages to bringing a wrongful death lawsuit late, including:

How does a Wrongful Death Claim Work in Florida?
  • Loss of evidence
  • Disappearance of witnesses
  • Poor recollection of events

Even if your claim isn't barred, these issues can negatively impact your case. The deadline for bringing your wrongful death claim may be tolled or postponed in a few instances. Such cases include:

  1. Medical Negligence: If the wrongful death was caused by medical malpractice, the time limit starts to count from the day you discover the cause of death. The timeframe may be longer than two years. This practice is called the discovery rule. The reason is that since you'll have to prove the cause of death in court, your cause of action doesn't accrue until you know the cause.
  2. Homicides: Homicides are another exception. This is because the police take a long time to conclude homicide investigations. Therefore, the Period of Limitations may not start until the police catch the culprit. At this stage, the hurting family knows exactly who to sue.
  3. Government Establishments: Furthermore, a wrongful death claim against a government entity may have a different time limit. The death may be caused by a government vehicle or negligent personnel. The statute of limitations is often extended to accommodate the different processes these government offices require before you can sue them.

Getting Help After the Wrongful Death of a Loved One

Losing a relative can be a difficult time for every member family. Dealing with emotional pain must be paramount. However, it would be best not to bear the medical expenses and other regular expenses. Such death responsibilities can result in financial hardship. 

Proceeding against the fault party in Florida can be challenging if you do it alone. So, it would be best to have an experienced lawyer represent you. At VG Law, we're the best wrongful death attorneys in Florida. With our combined expertise, we can prove the fault of the negligent party. Call us today to talk about your case.

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