Wrongful Death Suit FAQsAfter a man died inside his burning car, Tesla was faced with a wrongful death lawsuit. The case involves a 48-year-old anesthesiologist who lost control of his Model S Tesla, colliding with a tree. As a result of the crash, the lithium-ion battery caught fire. The man, who suffered no other injuries in the crash, died of smoke inhalation after he was unable to get the vehicle's doors to open. The man's widow filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of their five children he left behind. Losing a loved one is a traumatic experience that affects the entire family. A wrongful death lawsuit cannot bring your loved one back, but it can provide lessen the financial burden of expenses related to the death. Reducing financial stress can allow you to grieve, heal, and move forward with your life as best as possible. If you've lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. An experienced wrongful death attorney can answer your legal questions about the process. Speak with Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today.
What Is a Wrongful Death Suit?In Florida, when a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract” causes the death of another person, it is considered a wrongful death. A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed by a personal representative of the estate on behalf of a deceased person's family members and estate. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action requiring proof that someone else is legally liable for causing the death. Due to the similarities between personal injury and wrongful death claims, personal injury lawyers often represent wrongful death clients. Typically, a wrongful death suit is proper in cases where, had the decedent survived, he or she could have brought a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?Florida law requires the lawsuit to be filed by a personal representative that was named in the decedent's will or estate plan. If no will or estate plan existed at the time of the decedent's death, a personal representative will be appointed by the court. Although the representative handles the claim, the beneficiaries of any award in a wrongful death action will be family members of the decedent, including:
- The decedent's spouse. Spouses may recover lost support and services from the date of the decedent's injury to his or her death, plus interest. Additionally, a spouse may be compensated for the loss of future support and services. Loss of future support and services is calculated based on the age of the decedent at the time of his or her death, as well as the life expectancy of both the survivor and the decedent. Spouses may also recover damages relating to the loss of the decedent's companionship and protection and for any pain and suffering you have endured.
- The decedent's children. Minor children, or all children if there is no surviving spouse, may recover damages. The damages may relate to lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, and mental pain and suffering from the date of the decedent's injury or death. If the decedent's child was born out of wedlock, he or she may recover damages arising from the mother's wrongful death. However, damages arising from the father's wrongful death may only be recovered if the father formally recognized the child as his own and provided child support.
- The parents of a deceased minor child. When a minor child dies, the parents of the child may recover damages relating to mental pain and suffering from the date of the child's injury or death.
- The parents of a deceased adult child. The parents of an adult child may recover damages if he or she did not have a spouse or children.
- Blood relatives or adoptive siblings. Blood or adoptive relatives of the deceased individual who were dependent on the decedent for support and services may recover damages. When filing the claim, all potential beneficiaries must be named, along with their relationship to the deceased person.
- The survivor responsible for death expenses. An individual who paid for the decedent's funeral and burial expenses may recover those expenses.
- The decedent's estate. Damages that may be awarded to the estate include the loss of the decedent's earnings from the date of his or her injury until the date of death, less any support for survivors and loss of prospective net accumulations of the estate had the decedent not suffered a wrongful death. The estate can recover damages if the decedent's survivors include a spouse and lineal descendants, if not a minor child.
Who Can't File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?Those who are not related to the decedent and/or were not dependent on the decedent for support and services cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be filed on behalf of an adult child if the decedent has a surviving spouse. A claim cannot be filed on behalf of the parents of an adult decedent if there is a surviving spouse or minor children. A wrongful death lawsuit will be barred if the death was due to natural causes or the decedent's intentional acts. For example, suicide or a car accident caused by the decedent will be considered intentional acts. Other factors may deem you ineligible to file this type of lawsuit. Your personal injury attorney can advise whether a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed on your behalf.
Under What Circumstances Can a Wrongful Death Suit Be Filed?There are a variety of circumstances in which a person's wrongful or negligent actions can cause the death of another. Some of these circumstances include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including those that involve passenger cars, motorcycles, commercial vehicles, buses, watercraft, all-terrain vehicles, rideshares, and aircraft. Another wrongful death lawsuit filed in Florida against Tesla, alleges that the company is at fault for the accident that killed his 16-year-old son. The son was driving his father's Model S sedan at 116 miles per hour when he lost control and crashed into a concrete barrier. As a result of the crash, the car exploded, killing the boy and his classmate. Another passenger of the car at the time of the crash was ejected and survived. The suit alleges that it wasn't the impact of the accident, but the lithium-ion battery that is responsible for the son's death. The family of the deceased classmate has also filed a lawsuit. Both suits allege that the accident was due, in part, to a Tesla employee disabling the speed limiting function on the vehicle.
- Medical malpractice occurs when there is a breach in the standard of care provided by a medical professional resulting in a patient's death. A case set to be heard by the Florida Supreme Court, questions whether recovery for pain and suffering should be permitted in wrongful death medical malpractice cases. Currently, state law bars adult children from recovering non-economic damages in wrongful death claims involving medical malpractice. However, the adult children in this case assert that barring them from these damages is a violation of their constitutional rights. The Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court judge's decision to dismiss the case based on a 2002 Supreme Court decision. The decision reasons that allowing recovery of damages in these cases would cause a medical malpractice crisis. However, the Supreme Court will revisit the matter in light of later rulings questioning whether such damages would, in fact, result in a crisis.
- Defective products or drugs including surgical products, pharmaceutical drugs, food, or vehicle that malfunctioned, resulting in death may provide a basis for recovery. In product liability cases, liable parties may include the manufacturer, retailer, or supplier. In October 2019, a wrongful death suit against e-cigarette manufacturer, Juul, was filed on behalf of an 18-year-old man's mother. The claim alleges the company caused her son to become addicted to e-cigarettes, which led to his death. After years of vaping, the young man unexpectedly died in his sleep. Although the first lawsuit of this kind against Juul, it is likely not the last. The CDC recently reported 33 deaths and 1,479 lung injury cases involving vaping. The vast majority of these illnesses and deaths have occurred in people under the age of 35. In 2012, the surgeon general warned that the use of fruity flavors for e-cigarettes were a purposeful attempt to attract young consumers.
- Intentional criminal actions, such as assault, which caused the person's death may provide the basis for a claim. In these cases, the liable party may have been arrested, charged, and convicted of the crime. In addition, other parties may be held liable for their intentional actions. A California case, filed in October 2019, asserts a wrongful death claim against the school district where his 13-year-old son was a student. The suit alleges the son was bullied, and the district failed to take address the complaints or to enforce anti-bullying policies to protect students. The boy died after two other students attacked him at school. The students responsible for the attack have been charged with voluntary manslaughter.
- Nursing home abuse or neglect resulting in the death of a resident of the facility may be the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Premises liability issues such as a hazardous condition that caused a fall or a swimming pool accident may allow you to recover damages for your loss.
How Much Time Do You Have to File a Claim?Generally, Florida requires a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed within four years of the date of the decedent's death. However, there are exceptions, and in some cases, the time may be extended. Your personal injury attorney can advise you, based on the facts of your case, whether an extension is available.
Do You Need an Attorney to File a Wrongful Death Claim?While wrongful death lawsuits, like other types of civil claims, may be filed without an attorney, an experienced wrongful death attorney can ensure you receive the compensation that you and your family deserve. Some of the services an attorney may provide for your wrongful death claim include:
- A thorough explanation of the legal options available to you.
- Identifying all potential beneficiaries in your case.
- Identifying all potential sources of liability and insurance resources.
- Attempting to negotiate a fair settlement with liable parties before and even after your lawsuit has been filed.
- Ensuring that all filing deadlines and other court requirements are satisfied, that your claim is filed in the proper jurisdiction, and that it contains all the information necessary for your case to proceed.
- Representing the case in court throughout all pre-trial and trial proceedings.
- Overseeing the collection of your award.
- Representing you if you or the defendant wish to appeal the court's decision.