What Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do?

January 5, 2023 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
What Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do?

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, Statute 768.19 a wrongful death is “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.

In addition to handling these civil lawsuits, wrongful death lawyers often have experience with personal injury cases. At Dolman Law Group, a wrongful death attorney can help your family hold responsible parties financially accountable for the losses you have suffered. We offer free consultations to discuss your legal options in further detail. Continue reading to learn more about what a wrongful death lawyer does.

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 a basis for pursuing damages in a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. Generally, the decedent's ability to bring a personal injury claim, had they survived, is a required element of a wrongful death claim. In other words, the circumstances of the accident would have entitled the decedent to bring a personal injury action.

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 may 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 blood relative who was 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.

Establishing Proof in Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Similar to a personal injury lawsuit, one 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 need not have been held criminally responsible.

Does Legality Play a Role in Determining Liability?

For example, let's consider 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 2018, 10% of which 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 the criminal liability 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 and delayed treatment 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.

Proving the Chain of Causation in a Wrongful Death Claim

Although criminal negligence is not a requirement for a wrongful death claim, you must be able to prove the person's behavior was reckless, intentional, or negligent. Additionally, you must show that the person's reckless, intentional or negligent behavior caused your loved one's death.

You must also show that you or your family members suffered damages as a result of the death. To prove negligent behavior, one must demonstrate the person responsible for the death failed to exercise reasonable care.

What Qualifies as 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, the driver slows the vehicle to a stop. Reasonable drivers in these circumstances bring 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 other words, texting while driving may be considered negligent behavior. In sum, 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 that behavior contributed to the death of your loved one. To continue with the same example, because the driver was texting, they didn't see the pedestrian. Instead of slowing the vehicle to a stop, they hit the pedestrian, causing their death.

In this case, the driver's negligent behavior caused the death of the pedestrian. In this situation, you may have a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. If it cannot be shown that a person's behavior caused the death, the person 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, they refused treatment. If the patient's death was caused by cancer, the physician will not be liable. The patient chose to forego treatment, thus the doctor did not cause the patient's death. In this case, there would be no basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. Finally, one must establish there were damages as a result of the death of a 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 Wrongful Death Causes:

  • Murder and manslaughter: A physical attack resulting in loss of life may enable family members to file a wrongful death claim. Had the victim not lost their lives, they could have filed a personal injury lawsuit. The victim would be entitled to recover medical bills, time lost from work during their recovery, and, potentially, punitive damages.
  • Medical malpractice: For example, when a doctor performs an unnecessary surgery and the victim loses their life, the doctor may face a wrongful death claim. Had the victim survived the surgical procedure, they would have been able to file a civil lawsuit themselves. The personal injury lawsuit would operate to hold the doctor accountable for their mistakes.
  • 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 an 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.

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 in a Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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. Financial repercussions may be particularly damaging if the decedent was the sole breadwinner of the family. These costs are potentially 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
    • Prescriptions
    • Surgery
    • Hospice care
  • Lost wages
  • Funeral expenses
  • Lost potential income
  • Lost benefits

Wrongful Death Non-economic Damages

Family members may be entitled to other non-economic damages. 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 I Need a Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer?

FL Wrongful Death Lawyers

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, personal injury attorneys handle both types of cases. 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.

Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Assist With Important Administrative Tasks

Wrongful death lawsuits are complicated and a lawyer will 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. You will need to determine who is the executor or administrator of the decedent's estate.

Then, you or your personal injury lawyer must determine whether a personal representative was named in the decedent's will or 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 pertains to 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 may have up to four years to file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury attorney can help you determine important deadlines regarding your case.

Why Should I Choose Dolman Law Group to Represent Me?

Hiring the right lawyer is important because you want to work with a representative who acts in your best interests. As your wrongful death attorneys, we will act as your advocate and help you understand the best way to proceed. We have the legal expertise, work ethic, and trial experience to get the job done.

Many personal injury cases, particularly, car accidents and medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. On the other hand, many wrongful death cases go to trial. You will need a personal injury attorney with experience trying 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.

Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit Today

As wrongful death attorneys, Dolman Law Group understands 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 after someone else's intentional, reckless, or negligent behavior causes the death of your loved one.

Those consequences may include unexpected medical bills, lost wages, funeral and burial expenses, and the loss of companionship. 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 had the responsible party acted reasonably, consider contacting 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 wrongful death lawyers of Dolman Law Group will evaluate the facts of your case and help you determine the best way to move forward.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900

 

Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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