What is a Florida Wrongful Death Claim?
The death of a loved one is a difficult time for any family. Not only will the death of a loved one cause emotional distress, but there are also financial considerations you must face. You may have lost financial support or household services, and there are funeral costs. When the death is the result of natural causes, whether expected or unexpected, you and your family will be forced to bear these burdens yourself. However, when the death of your loved one is the result of someone else’s negligence, the law provides you with a way to recover for these unexpected emotional and financial losses.
When a person is injured in an accident, that person may have a claim against any person or corporation that caused or contributed to the cause of the accident. However, when the injured person dies as a result of their injuries, they are now incapable of bringing their own claim. When this happens, Florida’s wrongful death law allows certain family members to bring a claim for damages against the person(s) or corporation(s) responsible for your loved one’s death. A wrongful death claim may arise in a number of different contexts, including car accidents, truck accidents, swimming pool accidents, medical malpractice, even slip and fall accidents and fires in the home. The goal of a wrongful death case is to get compensation to the survivors and beneficiaries for their loss.
Are There any Requirements for Bringing an Action for Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim is different than a negligence claim that the deceased individual may have had against the at-fault party. A typical negligence claim focuses on the harms to the individual (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.), whereas a wrongful death claim focuses more on the financial and human consequences of your loved one’s death. Florida wrongful death claims are governed by Florida’s Wrongful Death Act (Fla. Stat. 768.16-768.26). Pursuant to the Wrongful Death Act, only certain qualifying individuals can bring an action for wrongful death, and only when certain criteria are met. If the following elements exist, a wrongful death action may be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate:
The commission of a tortious act (intentional, negligent, etc.) that causes another person’s death
The injured person, prior to his/her death, must have had a cause of action (a legal claim, whether initiated prior to death or not) for damages caused by the tortious act
There must have been an injury or loss to the decedent’s estate (accumulation of medical bills, funeral expenses, etc.) or the decedent’s survivors, or both, as a result of the death
Those seeking recovery must be eligible for recovery under the Wrongful Death Act
Who Can Bring an Action for Florida Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death action is initiated by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The personal representative initiates the action to recover on behalf of the estate (all legal beneficiaries of the estate), as well as on behalf of all people who are eligible for recovery under the Wrongful Death Act. Those individuals eligible to recover are as follows:
The surviving spouse
Minor children – which is defined as any child under the age of 25 years of age
Parents – recovery will differ depending on whether the decedent was a minor child or an adult
Any other blood relative or adopted brother or sister – under certain circumstances
If any of these individuals exist and qualify, the personal representative of the estate must list them in the wrongful death action.
What Damages are Recoverable in a Florida Wrongful Death Action?
The Wrongful Death Act limits the types of damages that can be recovered by each eligible survivor. They are:
The Estate (all legal beneficiaries as determined by will or applicable law)
The decedent’s personal representative may recover economic damages, which include loss of earnings, loss of prospective net accumulations, and medical and funeral expenses. Loss of “net accumulations” mean the part of the decedent’s expected net business or salary income, including pension benefits, that the decedent probably would have retained as savings and left to his/her estate had they lived their normal life expectancy [Fla. Stat. 768.15(5)].
The surviving spouse can recover for his/her mental pain and suffering and for the loss of the decedent’s support, services, companionship, and protection [Fla. Stat. 768.21].
Minor children can recover for loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Children can also recover for loss of support and services from the date of death and future loss of support and services.
Adult children may recover damages for lost support and services, regardless of dependency. If there is no surviving spouse (and the claim is not based on medical malpractice), they may also recover for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, and mental pain and suffering [Fla. Stat. 768.21(3)].
Parents (no surviving spouse or children)
If the loss is of a minor child, parents’ damages are for mental pain and suffering from the date of the injury, and medical and funeral expenses if paid by a survivor.
If the loss is of an adult child, parents’ damages are for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury (if no other survivors), loss of support and services from the date of injury to date of death, future loss of support and services from the date of death, and medical and funeral expenses if paid by a survivor.
Blood Relatives or Adoptive Brother or Sister
A blood relative or adoptive brother or sister can recover for loss of support and services ONLY if partially or wholly dependent upon the decedent for support and services [Fla. Stat. 768.18(1)]. Must demonstrate actual dependency.
Can Any Lawyer Handle a Florida Wrongful Death Claim?
As you can see, there are many complex rules and requirements involving wrongful death claims under Florida law. The above is merely a summary, and is not in any way exhaustive of all the exceptions and limitations that the Wrongful Death Act places on such claims. That is why it is important that you hire an attorney that handles wrongful death claims and knows the law. The attorneys at Southshore Injury Attorneys have successfully handled many such claims, and we are here to provide you with the support and representation that you deserve.
If you have questions about your Florida accident case, you can download our Free Reports:
which are available on our website, or you can click the link provided. You can also contact us at (813)419-3866 to talk directly to a Ruskin personal injury attorney now.