Miami-Dade County, home of Aventura, has an injury death rate of 45.67 per 100,000 persons.
But if you recently lost a loved one, you know it’s more than a statistic who died—it’s a person. You are most likely overwhelmed with the pain and grief that accompanies such a loss. The trauma of losing a loved one might cause trouble sleeping, panic attacks, uncontrollable crying, and a wide array of other physical, emotional, and psychological responses. Learning that your loss might have been avoided if not for the intentional harm or negligence of another party adds an extra layer to this grief.
Nothing can bring back your family member, but those who are liable must be held accountable. If your loved one died as a result of another party’s actions, you might be entitled to file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation for the losses that you and your family have sustained. Call one of the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP in Aventura at (954) 302-7068 to discuss the viability of your case.
When Does a Death Become a Wrongful Death?
Unfortunately, we lose loved ones far too often and sometimes far too soon, but not all deaths are considered wrongful deaths. Under Florida law, a wrongful death occurs when someone’s wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of a contract or warranty causes the death of another.
Your family member may have lost his or her life as a result of a wide variety of situations that might give rise to a wrongful death suit. Here are some of the most common examples of scenarios that give rise to wrongful death claims:
- Accidents at the workplace. Occupational related injuries cause numerous fatalities each year throughout the nation. Accidents might be a result of faulty machinery, hazardous working conditions, or the negligence of a co-worker. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports in its most recent data that Florida suffered 309 workplace fatalities in 2016; approximately one third of these fatalities were transportation related, 64 were caused by slips, trips, and falls, 50 resulted from exposure to harmful substances or hazardous environments, and the remaining involved violence by people and animals, explosions and fires, and contact with dangerous equipment. Under such circumstances, employers, property owners, contractors, and a variety of other parties might be named in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Motor vehicle accidents. Whether traveling in a car, truck, or commercial motor vehicle, those involved in severe accidents face a risk of dying. Recent data compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicates that more than 21,000 crashes resulting in injury occurred in Miami-Dade County in 2017, with 269 resulting in fatalities. Preliminary 2018 data reveals that almost 250 traffic accident fatalities had already occurred by November 1, 2018, in Miami-Dade County. Motor vehicle accidents have many causes, but when drivers make poor choices—such as drinking and driving, driving under the influence of drugs, or driving while distracted—they are far more likely to cause a fatal collision.
- Slip and falls. Slip and fall injuries are not fatal for everyone who has an accident. According to a ten-year study conducted by the Florida Department of Health, Florida residents over the age of 65 account for 88 percent of all slip and fall fatalities. Slip and fall injuries include broken bones, dislocated hips, and a variety of other injuries that heal at different speeds for different individuals. Death from slip and fall injuries may occur due to a traumatic brain injury sustained in a fall. Property owners who don’t maintain their floors or stairways put others at risk for a severe fall. Additionally, wet and dry spills of water, grease, food, granules, and more might result in a customer or client slipping. Property owners have a duty of care to clean up spills as soon as possible and warn visitors of hazardous conditions. When property owners breach that duty and someone dies, they might be liable in a wrongful death claim.
- Medical malpractice. Medical malpractice that leads to death might be one of the most complex and difficult situations that gives rise to a wrongful death claim. Society depends on medical professionals for healing and treating illness and disease. When a medical professional causes harm, regardless of whether it was intentional, it can prove traumatic on multiple levels. Medical malpractice scenarios that might lead to a wrongful death suit include when physicians fail to diagnose an illness or disease, misdiagnose an illness or disease, fail to provide adequate aftercare, make surgical errors, and more. Pharmacists and physicians might also make prescription errors that result in death. In many cases, hospitals share the liability with medical professionals. In a 2014 case, surviving family members filed a suit against an Aventura hospital after their family member was killed by another resident, citing gross neglect.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in Florida?
As long as the deceased would have been able to recover damages had he or she survived the accident, surviving family members are entitled to recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. This legal action must be filed by a personal representative of the decedent within two years from the date of the accident, according to Florida’s statute of limitations. Florida statutes concerning wrongful death clearly outline who might be able to file a wrongful death claim:
- A surviving spouse
- Minor children of the decedent, including adopted children or a blood relative who depended on the decedent
- Adult children of the decedent if there is no spouse
- Parents of minor children
- Parents of adult children if there are no other survivors
Florida law places the following caveat on child survivors born to unmarried parents: the child may only recover damages when the mother dies; recovering damages for a father’s death requires documentation of paternal acknowledgment and a child support order that was issued prior to death.
What Damages Might Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Suit?
The amount of compensation that you might receive from a wrongful death suit in Florida varies based on the financial need of the surviving dependents, the anticipated lifespan of the decedent, and the extent to which the decedent might have contributed to his or her own death. Under Florida law, the following damages may be recovered if the court determines that the liable parties were responsible for your loved one’s death:
- Loss of support and service from your loved one. The court calculates this amount based on the survivor’s relationship with the decedent, net income available for distribution, and replacement value of services provided. The court calculates future losses based on the joint life expectancies of the survivor and the deceased, and when minor children are survivors, the court may also look at the length of time until the child becomes an adult.
- Loss of companionship and protection for a surviving spouse
- Mental pain and suffering for a surviving spouse, for minor children if there is no spouse, for parents who survive a minor child, and for parents of an adult child without other survivors
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance for minors when there is no surviving spouse
- Medical expenses including hospitalization, ambulance services, doctor visits, surgeries, etc. for any survivor who paid them
- Burial and funeral expenses for any survivor who paid them
In some situations, the court might award compensation to the estate of the deceased. The estate may recover the following damages:
- Lost wages from the date of injury to the date of death
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate when there is a surviving spouse or blood relative
- Medical expenses
- Burial and funeral expenses
What Tactics Might the Defense Employ in a Wrongful Death Suit?
When you file a wrongful death claim for the loss of a loved one, you can expect that individuals who might be liable and their insurance carriers will do what they can to avoid paying claims or damages. In Florida, the defense typically hones in on two strategies in wrongful death lawsuits: (1) attacking the facts of the case and (2) shifting the blame to the deceased.
When personal injury lawyers attempt to negotiate settlements or prepare for trial, they generally must prove the following:
- Duty of care – The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the deceased. For example, drivers have a duty of care to those with which they share the road to drive carefully; doctors have a duty of care to not harm their patients; and property owners have a duty of care to maintain a safe environment for visitors.
- Breach of duty – The defendant must have breached the aforementioned duty of care. For example, a driver who speeds, runs a red light, or texts and drives has likely breached that duty. Similarly, doctors who prescribe the wrong medication and property owners that don’t clear snow and ice have breached their duty to patients and visitors, respectively.
- Cause – The breach of duty must be the direct cause of the injury that led to death.
The defense may argue that the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care, or that the defendant did not breach any duty, but in most cases, the defense focuses on the element of causation. Attacking causation is also a way to shift blame to the victim. Although Florida’s Wrongful Death Act gives survivors the right to sue, Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that if the court determines that the defendant is negligent, then they assign a percentage of fault to each party. If the defense proves that the decedent at least partially contributed to the accident that led to death, the court will reduce the amount of the damages award accordingly. For example, if the court determines that the victim suffered $2,000,000 in damages, and the court also determines that the victim was 25 percent at fault for the accident, then the court will reduce the damages award to $1,500,000. In the event that a survivor is partially responsible for the death, that individual is barred from collecting damages.
The doctrine of comparative negligence provides motivation for the defense to shift blame to the decedent or any other party. Defendants may attempt to accomplish this in a number of ways, depending on the circumstances that led to death. Here are some common examples:
- The defense might claim that the decedent was driving under the influence of controlled substances, driving while fatigued, or violating other traffic regulations that contributed to a motor vehicle accident.
- When a workplace injury leads to death, the defense might claim that the deceased was doing his job incorrectly, using equipment improperly, or not following proper safety protocol.
- If the decedent died as a result of a slip and fall injury, the responsible property owner might argue that the hazard was obvious to the victim and that he or she chose not to avoid it.
Contact a Skilled Wrongful Death Lawyer in Aventura
Wrongful death claims are highly complex cases that require the finesse and expertise of an experienced personal injury attorney. Not only will a good lawyer investigate your case, reach out to potential eyewitnesses and experts, and handle all of the procedural details, but your lawyer will also be ready to fight against counterclaims and other attacks mounted by the defense. The death of a loved one is a devastating loss on multiple levels; let a licensed lawyer advocate for you and your family and help seek compensation for the full cost of your loss.
Like most personal injury law firms, we offer a free consultation to prospective clients. When you call us, one of our wrongful death lawyers will evaluate the details of your case. We generally handle wrongful death cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that we only collect attorney’s fees if we successfully recover compensation in your case.
If you have lost a loved one due to another person’s intentional harm or negligence, call one of our compassionate lawyers at Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP in Aventura at (954) 302-7068, or contact us online, for a free consultation and to determine the best way forward given your individual circumstances. Our skilled legal team understands how difficult experiencing a wrongful death can be, and while we cannot guarantee a favorable result, we will work diligently to attain the best possible outcome for your case.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS
20807 Biscayne Boulevard Suite 100,
Aventura, FL 33180
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