WHAT IS A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?
A wrongful death lawsuit claims that the victim was killed as a result of negligence (or other type of unjust action) on the part of the person or entity being sued, and that the victim’s survivors are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the improper conduct.
A wrongful death action is separate and apart from criminal charges, and neither proceeding affects nor controls the other. This means that a defendant acquitted of murder may be sued in a civil action by the victim’s family for wrongful death.
Wrongful death statutes do not apply to an unborn fetus, as an individual does not have a distinct legal status until he is born alive. If an infant is born alive and later dies as a result of an injury that occurred prior to birth, an action may be brought for wrongful death .
Table of Contents:
- The Basics
- Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
- Types of Damages
- Evidence Required
- How Much is My Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?
THE BASICS OF A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
There are many elements involved when pursuing a wrongful death claim against a negligent party. Proving liability, establishing a survivor’s right to make a claim, and determining the damages to which you may be entitled are some of the issues associated with a wrongful death claim. To learn more about this type of civil action, consult a wrongful death attorney in West Palm Beach.
Wrongful Death Rules in Florida
In order to pursue a wrongful death claim in Florida, the fatality must involve a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty.” Any type of fatal accident can result in a wrongful death claim, including:
- car, motorcycle, aviation, and boating accidents;
- medical malpractice;
- premises liability;
- product liability;
- pedestrian accidents; and
- animal attacks.
Individuals, companies and government agencies may be named in a wrongful death claim when there is evidence that the act that led to the fatality was intentional or negligent.
A Survivor’s Right to Action in Wrongful Death Claims
You may pursue a wrongful death claim as a survivor if you meet the specific requirements of the Florida statutes. Parents, spouses, and children of the deceased are entitled to pursue a wrongful death claim.
Any blood relative or adoptive siblings may claim compensation if it can be proven that they were partially or wholly dependent on the deceased for financial support or household services.
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in Florida is two years from the date of death. In circumstances in which an injury eventually led to a fatality – toxic exposure, for instance – the two-year period begins on the date on which it was discovered that the death was caused by the injury.
WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUITS?
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim may be filed by “real parties of interest” and may include the survivors who suffered damages related to the decedent’s death. This varies from state to state, but can include immediate family members, life-partners, financial dependents and putative spouses. Here is the definition of “real parties of interest” as it applies to Florida law.
The right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death was not part of the “common law” brought to the United States from England. During the last century, state and federal courts created the right to bring a wrongful death action, and today every state has some type of wrongful death law.
Wrongful death claims include all types of fatal accidents from simple car accidents to complicated medical malpractice or product liability cases. Persons, companies, and governmental agencies can be legally at fault for acting negligently (failing to act as a reasonable person would have acted) and for acting intentionally.
Here are some of the most common types of wrongful death claims:
In 2013, Florida reported 2,228 fatal car crashes which resulted in 2,407 fatalities, with an estimated 34% involving a drunk driver. Drivers are held accountable for operating their cars in a safe manner, so that other drivers, passengers and pedestrians are protected against injury or death. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Careless driving doesn’t just include obeying traffic laws. Drivers are expected to safely manage changes in road conditions, traffic patterns and unexpected dangers and adjust their driving accordingly.
Death by Car Example:
Bruce Jenner was charged with a wrongful death lawsuit by the stepchildren of the woman who died in the recent Malibu car crash. Videos show he was clearly at fault and not paying attention. The two adult stepchildren claim that Bruce was “careless and negligent” when he slammed into their stepmother’s car causing it to careen into oncoming traffic where it collided head on with a Hummer.
Because the stepchildren had practically no relationship with their stepmother any claimed damages might be extremely hard to prove. They claim loss of affection, but friends who were close to the woman say there was no affection at all.
Medical and health care professionals are required to provide acceptable standards of treatment and care. When a medical professional fails to deliver this care to a patient and that patient dies, the deceased patient’s family members can bring a wrongful death claim to the irresponsible party, including doctors, hospitals, nurses, psychologists and other health care professionals.
When at work, employees can expect that their employers provide a safe environment, as set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Certain occupations such as construction workers, miners, loggers, fishermen/fisherwoman, metalworkers, truck drivers and electricians are considered “high risk” occupations and come with a higher percentage of work-related deaths. If it’s proven that faulty equipment or improper training was to blame for an accident resulting in a death, the employer can be held responsible.
Manufacturers, distributors and retailers are liable for the goods they manufacture, distribute and sell. If someone dies as a result of using a product with a faulty design or because of defective manufacturing, a wrongful death claim may be possible.
When a person commits a criminal act that caused a wrongful death that person can face both criminal and civil law proceedings. That person doesn’t need to be convicted of the criminal charges in order for the deceased’s family member or legal representative to charge them with a civil wrongful death lawsuit. The “burden of proof” is not as severe as it is in civil court proceedings.
TYPES OF DAMAGES IN A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT
When a loved one dies, there’s an irreplaceable hole left behind. When a loved one dies because of someone’s irresponsible actions, the hole is even bigger. The job of a personal injury attorney is to put the jurors in the shoes of the family; to make them understand and feel the pain that the family feels when they lose a love one this way. A jury who understands the family’s pain will award the plaintiff damages.
Wrongful death damages vary from state to state, but are generally financial (also called pecuniary) damages awarded to the deceased’s beneficiaries. Beneficiaries are usually the spouse, children, or relatives who received financial support from the deceased. The main type of wrongful death damages is loss of provision for family members that the deceased supported financially from the period of time of the accident up to the death and for future earnings and benefits that the deceased would have provided for his or her beneficiaries.
Survival Law Damages
Survival laws award damages to the estate from the moment of the injury until the time of death. This includes not only the pain and suffering for the deceased, but any lost earnings from the time of the accident until his/her death. If, however, the deceased died immediately as a result of the accident, then the estate would only be entitled to pain and suffering and not entitled to damages for the lost earnings.
Consider a car accident as an example – damages may include medical expenses, mental and physical pain and suffering, lost wages, and funeral and burial expenses from the time of the crash until the time of death. Survival law damages is time sensitive – from the time of the accident until time of death as a result of injuries caused by the accident. This could be hours, weeks or months after the accident.
Economic or Pecuniary Damages
Pecuniary damages are based on the financial contributions the victim would have made to the survivors if he/she had not died. They may include: medical and funeral expenses; loss of expected earnings; loss of benefits (pension plans or medical coverage), and loss of future inheritance.
Non-Economic or Punitive Damages
These damages often have more value than economic damages and can include mental anguish or pain and suffering for the survivors; loss of the care, protection, guidance, advice, training, and nurturing from the deceased; loss of love, society, and companionship from the deceased, and loss of consortium from a deceased spouse. These damages are awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing to punish the wrongdoer and to stop others from acting similarly. In many states these damages are not available in wrongful death lawsuits or not recoverable against certain defendants including most governmental agencies.
WHAT EVIDENCE IS NEEDED FOR A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
There might be nothing more tragic than losing a loved one in a way that could have been prevented. While nothing can bring your loved one back, pursuing a wrongful death claim may be a way for family to get closure and some justice.
While fault for the accident may seem obvious, there are many factors that must be taken into consideration to reach a favorable outcome. One of these factors is evidence. Just like any claim you’ll need to have information demonstrating that your loved one’s death was caused by another’s negligence.
Evidence in a wrongful death claim may include:
- testimony from an eyewitness that explains what he or she may have seen or heard relating to a fatal accident or action;
- important documents such as medical records and police reports; and
- testimony from an expert witness.
Because the evidence presented to a judge or jury in a wrongful death claim can make or break a case, it is important not to discard any documents you receive related to the death of your loved one. It may also be a good idea to record statements from eyewitnesses and to get their contact information.
If a product such as a medical device or car part was involved in your loved one’s death, hold on to that as well. You never know what piece of information may prove useful in winning your claim.
Your lawyer can help you determine which pieces of evidence can be helpful and how to obtain them if you have not already. Another step in ensuring a favorable outcome in your wrongful death claim is hiring a lawyer.
You don’t want to miss out on your chance of justice for your loved one because your case wasn’t handled properly. Remember, you don’t have to take on your case alone in this stressful, traumatic time.
HOW MUCH IS MY WRONGFUL DEATH CASE WORTH?
When someone dies unexpectedly due to the negligence of another, damages awarded in a wrongful death suit may be able to compensate families for the deceased’s lost wages, medical and funeral expenses and even loss of companionship. In the State of Florida, a spouse, child, parent or any other relative or adoptive sibling who was financially or emotionally dependent on the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
A amount of money a family can receive in a wrongful death lawsuit depends on many different factors. There are two different types of damages that can be available to survivors: economic and non-economic. Economic damages refer to the financial contributions the deceased would have made to survivors. These damages include the medical and funeral expenses connected to the death, loss of the deceased’s expected earnings, loss of medical coverage, pensions or other benefits and loss of inheritance. Additionally, the value of goods and services that the deceased would have provided are factored into economic damages.
Non-economic damages include mental anguish or pain and suffering and loss of care, companionship, love or consortium. These damages are non-quantifiable and often have caps placed on the amount a family can receive. For example, the State of Florida has placed a $1 million cap on damages that can be received in wrongful death involving medical practitioners, $1.5 million for non-practitioners. It is important to note that, although there are caps in place for non-economic damages, there are no caps on economic damages families can receive after the wrongful death of a loved one.
Additionally, in medical malpractice wrongful death claims, there are limits on survivors that can be eligible for compensation. Adult children (children over the age of 25) of the deceased do not have a claim. If the deceased is an adult child, the parents would not have a claim. If you want to file a medical malpractice wrongful death claim, you need to speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to make sure your rights are protected.
You must also take into consideration the statute of limitations the State of Florida places on wrongful death lawsuits. You have two years from the date of the death in order to file your claim. Failing to do so may prohibit your family from ever receiving compensation for your loved one’s death.
We Represent Families in Florida Wrongful Death Cases
The attorneys at Wolf and Pravato are based in South Florida and help families of victims throughout the state of Florida. If a family member or another loved one has suffered a wrongful death in Fort Lauderdale, please contact one of our Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys for a consultation. Call 1-954-633-8270 now.