Hopefully, you will never need to bring a wrongful death case. But if you lose a loved one in an accident that was caused by someone else's negligent or reckless behavior, you need to understand exactly what does a wrongful death lawyer do and why do you need one?
A wrongful death lawyer handles civil lawsuits for families who have lost a loved one due to the negligence or wrongful act of another party. In Florida, wrongful death is defined as "when a person's death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default or breach of contract or warranty.” In these cases, the deceased person's estate may file a civil lawsuit to recover financial compensation from the at-fault party.
In addition to handling these civil lawsuits, wrongful death lawyers often have experience with personal injury cases. At Dolman Law Group, one of our wrongful death attorneys can help your family hold the responsible parties financially accountable for the losses you have suffered. We offer free consultations to discuss your legal options and the legal process in further detail.
Read on to learn more about what a wrongful death lawyer does and why you may need one.
Qualifications for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
One of the most important duties of a wrongful death lawyer is establishing that the surviving family has the legal right to pursue damages in a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. Generally, the decedent must have had the right to bring a personal injury claim if they had survived. When the decedent passes away, the surviving family members acquire the right to bring a wrongful death claim, as explained below. In other words, if the circumstances of the accident would have entitled the decedent to bring a personal injury action had they survived, a wrongful death claim is possible.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida?
Florida law allows only the personal representative of an estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A personal representative may be a person named in the decedent's will. In the absence of a will, the court will appoint a personal representative.
Once the personal representative is identified, they should contact a wrongful death lawyer to file a civil lawsuit. The wrongful death lawsuit is filed on behalf of the deceased and their surviving family members by the personal representative.
The person who files the wrongful death lawsuit is responsible for providing the names of all survivors who may benefit from any settlement. Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed on behalf of a surviving parent, spouse, child, or other relatives who were dependent on the decedent for support. The primary beneficiaries are typically spouses and children. Additionally, the child of an unmarried person may benefit if the deceased parent was identified before birth and was contributing to their support.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Establishes Proof in Florida Lawsuits
Similar to a personal injury lawsuit, a claimant must establish certain facts to be successful when filing a wrongful death lawsuit. First, it is important to understand the person responsible for your loved one's death doesn't have to be criminally responsible.
A Wrongful Death Attorney Does Not Need to Prove Criminal Behavior to Establish Liability
For example, let's consider the issue of liability in a fatal Florida car accident involving a drunk driver. According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), more than 3,000 people lost their lives due to a traffic accident in one recent year, and 10% of these accidents involved a drunk driver.
Legally, driving while impaired is considered negligent conduct. Consciously deciding to drive after using alcohol or drugs is choosing to put others in danger. A death caused by a car accident involving an impaired driver may provide the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. If a criminal conviction is made, that would likely add credibility to any personal injury lawsuit in civil court.
However, establishing responsibility in a wrongful death case does not require criminal liability on the part of the responsible party. Medical malpractice cases commonly provide for civil liability, even though the physician's actions are not considered a crime.
For example, a physician may have failed to properly diagnose cancer which delayed treatment and caused the loss of your loved one's life. The medical personnel's failure to diagnose cancer is not a criminal act. However, treatment providers may be held civilly responsible for expenses and losses resulting from the patient's death.
So, What Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do?
Although criminal negligence is not a requirement for a wrongful death claim, a wrongful death attorney must be able to prove the responsible person's behavior was reckless, intentional, or negligent. Then, your attorney must show that the person's reckless, intentional, or negligent behavior caused your loved one's death. Lastly, you must also show that you or your family members suffered damages as a result of the death.
Proving the Chain of Causation in a Wrongful Death Claim
To prove a civil lawsuit, a wrongful death attorney must demonstrate the person responsible for the death failed to exercise reasonable care, the lack of care led to the incident that caused the death, and the death resulted in losses. In legal terms, this is known as a chain of causation.
Establishing Reasonable Care in a Personal Injury Claim
Reasonable care means a person acted in a manner that any other person may have acted under the same circumstances. For example, when a driver approaches a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a reasonable driver slows the vehicle to a stop until the pedestrian is safely out of the roadway.
An inattentive driver, distracted by a text message, who does not see the pedestrian in the crosswalk is not acting reasonably. In general, texting while driving is negligent behavior because a reasonable person understands inattentively operating a motor vehicle is dangerous and irresponsible.
Connecting Negligence to Accident Injury in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
After establishing negligent behavior, a wrongful death attorney must show the behavior contributed to the death of your loved one. To continue with the same example, because the driver was texting, they didn't see your family member walking. Instead of slowing the vehicle to a stop, they hit the pedestrian, causing their death.
When the driver's negligent behavior caused the death of your loved one, you may have a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. If it cannot be shown that a person's behavior caused the death, they will not be held accountable.
To use a different example, a physician wouldn't be liable for a patient's death if, after diagnosing the patient, the patient refused treatment. If the patient's death was caused by non-treatment, the physician would not be liable. If the patient chose to forego treatment, the doctor did not cause the patient's death. In this case, there would be no basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. Finally, your lawyer must establish there were financial losses, or damages, as a result of the death of your loved one.
Common Causes of Florida Wrongful Deaths
There are many types of incidents and accidents that can result in wrongful death. In some cases, the accident results in an immediate fatality, while other times, a victim may sustain injuries that ultimately lead to their death. This can occur in a single instance or through repeated exposure.
Had the victim survived in these situations, they would have been entitled to compensation for costs like medical bills, lost wages, and other damages directly resulting from the accident. In a fatal accident, the family may be able to recover compensation for their losses.
Examples of Situations That Can Lead to Wrongful Death:
- Murder and manslaughter: A physical attack resulting in loss of life may enable family members to file a wrongful death claim. If the victim had not lost their life, they could have filed a personal injury lawsuit to recover medical bills, lost income, and, potentially, punitive damages.
- Medical malpractice: For example, when a doctor performs an unnecessary surgery, and the patient dies during surgery, the doctor may face a wrongful death claim.
- Motor vehicle accidents: One of the leading causes of wrongful death is traffic accidents involving negligent drivers. For example, if a truck driver's failure to follow safety guidelines or secure their load causes a fatal accident, they may bear liability for wrongful death. The same would be true for a distracted or drunk driver.
- Other negligent actions: Several types of accidents can entitle surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim. For example, accidents on construction sites caused by unsafe conditions, accidents involving defective products, or neglected premises that lead to death may qualify under the law.
Anyone who believes their loved one's death could have been prevented should speak with a personal injury attorney. An experienced accident injury attorney who understands wrongful death laws can help you navigate your claim.
Types of Damages a Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Request
When a person survives an injury or illness caused by another's negligent act or willful conduct, they are entitled to damages. This also applies in a wrongful death lawsuit, except it is the surviving family who is potentially entitled to compensation for their losses. In some cases, the deceased underwent extensive medical treatment before succumbing to their injuries, necessitating that their family members miss work to care for them or take them to appointments.
Additionally, the loss of a parent or spouse as a result of someone's negligent behavior can have long-lasting financial repercussions. These losses might be particularly damaging if the decedent was the sole breadwinner of the family. Certain costs are eligible for reimbursement, in addition to expenses related to death, such as funeral and burial expenses.
Examples of Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit:
- Medical bills
- Rehabilitation costs
- Diagnostic tests
- Hospice care
- Lost wages
- Funeral expenses
- Lost potential income
- Lost benefits
Wrongful Death Non-economic Damages
Family members may be entitled to non-economic damages as well. The nature of these damages makes it difficult to predict the amount of compensation a family may receive. For example, a child who loses a parent loses the parent's companionship, guidance, and future inheritance. A surviving spouse may also receive compensation for the loss of companionship, among other damages.
Do You Need a Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer?
Often, personal injury lawyers will also be experienced in wrongful death matters because both personal injury cases and wrongful death cases require many of the same elements. You should contact a wrongful death lawyer if you believe a loved one's death could have been avoided. They can provide advice and information before you decide to pursue legal action.
Additionally, they will be able to negotiate more effectively for a fair settlement due to their knowledge of insurance company tactics. A wrongful death lawyer can help you understand your rights and help to identify the individuals responsible for your loss. Should you decide to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, you will need an experienced wrongful death lawyer by your side.
Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Assist With Important Administrative Tasks
Since wrongful death lawsuits are complicated, you deserve a skilled lawyer to help you navigate the process. Florida laws require a personal representative to file the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent and their family members. Your attorney will need to determine who is the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate.
In some cases, you or your personal injury lawyer must determine whether a personal representative was named in the decedent's will or if a representative needs to be appointed by the court. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations that you must take into consideration when filing a wrongful death lawsuit. A statute of limitations establishes the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after losing a loved one.
The time will vary depending on the incident that led to the death of your loved one. For example, a wrongful death lawsuit following a fatal car accident must be filed within two years of the death. If your loved one died as a result of medical malpractice, you might have a different deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can help you determine important deadlines regarding your case.
Now That You Understand What a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Do, How do You Choose the Right Attorney to Represent You?
Hiring the right lawyer is important because you want to work with an advocate who acts in your best interests and helps you understand the best way to proceed. The legal team at Dolman Law Group has the legal experience, work ethic, and trial skills to get the job done.
Many personal injury cases, such as motor vehicle accidents and premises liability matters, are settled out of court. Many wrongful death cases settle, but some eventually go to trial. You should work with a personal injury attorney with prior success litigating cases in court before a judge and jury. At Dolman Law Group, we won't pressure you to settle if we believe that you are not receiving a fair settlement offer.
Instead, our team will work towards maximum compensation for your wrongful death claim. Some of our recent results include:
- a 1 million dollar wrongful death settlement for a father killed in a rideshare car accident
- a 6.7 million dollar wrongful death settlement
If you are in need of a dedicated, knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer, Dolman Law Group is here to help you pursue maximum compensation for the loss of your loved one.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit
As experienced personal injury attorneys, we understand there is no amount of money that can make up for the loss of a loved one. However, we believe you should not have to suffer devastating financial and emotional consequences of someone else's intentional, reckless, or negligent behavior. We know what a wrongful death lawyer must do to help the surviving family members address financial concerns while grieving their loss, and we're prepared to fight for you.
Dolman Law Group understands you are facing a lifetime of pain and loss. We will work tirelessly to help you recover financially, even if that means taking your wrongful death lawsuit to court.
If you believe a loved one would not have died if the responsible party had acted reasonably, consider speaking with a wrongful death attorney at Dolman Law Group. You can contact us at (727) 451-6900 or through our contact form on our website at any time. The legal team at Dolman Law Group will evaluate the facts of your case for free and help you determine the best way to move forward.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765