After the tragic death of a loved one, families are left to cope with their loss. This difficult time often includes mental anguish from pain and grief and can include financial stress from medical expenses, a loss of household income, and a loss of help and guidance provided by the deceased. Dealing with losing a family member is hard enough, but finding out death might have been avoided if not for the careless actions of another party compounds the devastation of the loss.
Florida law entitles surviving family members to seek damages for their loss in a wrongful death lawsuit when a negligent party caused the death of their loved one. Compensation is not a time machine which can undo harm or loss, but it can help cover the losses incurred as a result of the death of a loved one and potentially alleviate any associated financial stress. Additionally, a wrongful death lawsuit holds negligent parties accountable for their actions, which might prevent future victims from losing their lives.
If you have lost a loved one, contact a Clearwater wrongful death lawyer to determine your eligibility for compensation. Contact Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) to schedule a free consultation.
How Our Clearwater Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Help
As a law firm that routinely handles wrongful death claims and lawsuits, we are committed to fighting for your rightful compensation for this tragic loss. Our Clearwater based wrongful death lawyers will fight the respective insurance carrier to ensure that adequate compensation is paid for the:
- Loss of benefits
- Loss of companionship (which may include punitive damages)
- Direct expenses (including medical bills and funeral cost)
- Loss of future earning power
- Punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer for causing the ultimate tragedy.
When selecting a Clearwater wrongful death attorney or law firm, note the experience they have in handling and litigating this unique type of case. Many personal injury law firms either do not litigate or have a reputation for being hesitant to aggressively pursue claims. We are committed to zealously pursuing wrongful death cases and have the necessary resources to see a case through jury trial if necessary.
We pursue personal injury claims statewide and feel honored that fellow law firms retained us as co-counsel in cases that we helped to litigate in several Florida jurisdictions.
Florida’s Legal Definition of Wrongful Death
Sometimes we lose loved ones far too soon, but not all loss of life qualifies as a wrongful death. Wrongful death is when an individual’s life is taken as a result of negligence or wrongful act of another person. Popular examples include negligence, careless driving, assault/battery, manslaughter, and murder. Wrongful death cases are completely separate from criminal charges.
In the past, a cause of action for personal injuries resulting in the death of the victim terminated at the time of the party’s death. It seemed natural that no cause of action could exist for the wrongful death of a human being, and such recovery would need to be created statutorily. In 1883, Florida enacted legislation providing a right to recover compensation for the wrongful death of a human being. Over the years the act has evolved from allowing limited recovery in limited circumstances to a much more broadly construed law.
Today, a wrongful death action may be brought by any of the statutory beneficiaries. The act gives survivors a right of action based on the underlying tort committed against the decedent that caused the death.
Florida law clearly defines wrongful death as a death caused by “the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters.”
A wrongful death lawsuit is filed against someone for causing an individual’s death. Of course, the evidence has to be clear and convincing. In addition, the deceased must have had a chance to prevail in personal injury lawsuit had they survived the injury which resulted in death. You can think of a wrongful death lawsuit as a personal injury lawsuit where a representative of your loved one’s estate sues for damages on behalf of the deceased.
More specifically, for an estate to have a proper cause of action in accordance with Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, the following elements must be met:
- Death of a person,
- The death must be caused by the negligence of another person or entity,
- The decedent’s family member must be presently suffering a financial loss as a result of the death,
- An estate must be set up pursuant to Florida Statute and a personal representative for the decedent.
The death of a person is a relatively obvious element to prove. Generally, it is not a point of contention where there has been an identification of the decedent.
The issue of negligence is more complicated. For negligence to be proven three things must be shown:
- That there was a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff,
- That the duty owed was breached,
- That an injury was caused to the decedent by the defendant’s breach.
An ordinary negligence claim would require that the plaintiff show that damages resulted from the injury suffered. However, a wrongful death action requires that the decedent’s family member must be presently suffering a loss.
A Wrongful Death Can Occur Anywhere
Many different scenarios might lead to fatal injury, giving rise to a wrongful death suit from surviving family members. Some common situations include:
Drivers and occupants of cars, motorcycles, and commercial motor vehicles, who are involved in severe traffic crashes, are at risk of dying as a result of a fatal injury. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates 3,150 traffic fatalities on Florida’s roads and highways in 2018. More than 120 of those fatalities occurred near Clearwater in Pinellas County. Traffic crashes have many causes, most of which are preventable. Negligent drivers who violate traffic regulations, drink and drive, use drugs and drive, and make other reckless choices which lead to a collision, might be held liable for damages in a wrongful death suit. Distracted driving, especially cell phone use, has been on the rise and remains a concern for Florida motorists.
As a state with hundreds of miles of coastline, rivers, and canals, boating accidents are a common occurrence in Florida. The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) collects data and reports on Florida boating accidents. In recent years, more than 65 people have died in boating accidents in Florida. Most fatalities result from falling overboard; other types of accidents include collisions with another boat or a fixed object, flooding, and capsizing. The FWC reports these common causes of fatalities:
- Improper lookout or inattentive operation
- Excessive speed and reckless operation
- Alcohol use
- Operator inexperience
- Overloading and improper anchoring
When a boat operator’s careless actions or mistakes lead to death, he might be liable for damages for a wrongful death suit.
Each year hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists lose their lives across Florida. The most recent FLHSMV data reveals 699 pedestrians and 149 bicyclists died in 2018. Those walking, running, and biking don’t have the protection of a car when a careless driver crashes into them. If they are lucky enough to live through an accident, victims are left with severe injuries which can cause complications for life. Although cyclists and pedestrians might dart out in traffic and cause a fatal accident, more often than not, a motor vehicle driver has caused the accident. Motorists have an elevated duty of care to those walking and on bikes. In fact, pedestrians always have the right of way, and in many cases bicyclists, too. Drivers who cause the death of a pedestrian or cyclist face a high likelihood of a Florida court holding them liable for damages in a wrongful death suit.
Most people spend at least a third of each day working, so it should not be surprising that many wrongful deaths occur in the workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) collects data on workplace injury and fatality for each state. In its most recent report on Florida, OSHA estimates 299 workplace fatalities in 2017, 10 less than the previous year.
Fatal accidents might be a result of hazardous working conditions, careless colleagues, faulty machinery, and a variety of other things. OSHA reports approximately one-third of 2017’s fatalities were transportation related, 62 deaths were a result of falls, slips, and trips, 48 fatalities from exposure to harmful substances, 43 fatalities from workplace violence, and the remaining causes included contact with dangerous equipment and explosions or fires. Death in the workplace often requires a wrongful death attorney who has experience with workers compensation claims.
These wrongful death claims are highly complex because they can involve employers, property owners, contractors, and a wide array of third parties.
Slip and Fall Accidents
A slip and fall accident might not be fatal for all who experience one, but seniors are most at risk for death after a fall. With Florida’s large senior population, this makes a slip and fall a common situation which can lead to a wrongful death suit. In fact, a study by the Florida Department of Health revealed Florida residents over age 65 comprise 88 percent of the state’s fatalities related to slip and falls. Seniors and others who suffer a slip and fall can break bones, dislocate joints, and get injured in many other ways. When a slip and fall results in death, it’s often because of a head trauma. When people hit their head on the ground, it can result in a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) from which a senior might not recover. Property owners have a legal duty to maintain their properties in a safe manner for visitors; failure to uphold that duty can be fatal. Falls might be caused by wet or dry spills of liquids, food, or sand, or from cleaning products like wax.
Swimming Pool Accidents
Florida’s warm, often hot climate makes it the perfect place to take a dip in the swimming pool. Florida residents who don’t have a swimming pool might go for a swim at a friend’s or neighbor’s home, or head to a public pool. Slip and falls near a pool can lead to death, but unfortunately, accidental drownings, often of young children, are more common. Property owners are required to maintain their pool areas to protect others from injury and death. Some negligent actions which might lead to a fatal swimming pool accident include:
- Failure to erect or maintain proper fencing around a pool
- Failure to supervise children around a pool
- Defective swimming pool filter and draining systems
- Lack of safety equipment
Losing a loved one as a result of medical malpractice might devastate families more than other types of fatal accidents. We trust hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to diagnose, treat, heal, and cure illness and disease. When a doctor causes death to a patient, it violently pierces what we believe to be true about the medical profession as a whole. Several types of action or inaction fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice which can lead to a wrongful death suit when the malpractice leads to a fatality. Some examples include failing to diagnose or misdiagnosing an illness or disease, performing wrong-site or unnecessary surgeries, surgical errors, and failure to provide proper aftercare. Medical professionals might also make medication errors which result in death, such as the wrong dosage or wrong medication. In many medical malpractice cases, hospitals share liability with the individual medical professional who committed malpractice.
Family Member Eligibility for a Florida Wrongful Death Claim
If your loved one would have been eligible to recover damages in a personal injury suit if he or she lived, Florida law entitles surviving family member to bring a wrongful death suit against a liable party(s); however, you must take legal action within the two-year statute of limitations. If a lawsuit is not filed within the two-year period following the decedent’s date of death, your legal right to sue will expire as a result of the statute of limitations in accordance with Florida Statute.
Additionally, a personal representative of the deceased or the estate of the deceased must file the lawsuit. Florida wrongful death statutes clearly define which family members can recover damages from a wrongful death suit:
- Surviving spouse
- Dependents of the deceased including minor children, adopted children, and other blood relatives
- Adult children of the deceased when there is no spouse
- Parents of minor children
- Parents of adult children when no other survivors exist
Children of unmarried parents may only recover damages after the death of the mother. Recovering damages after a father’s death requires paternal acknowledgment and a child support order which was issued prior to the death of the father.
Types of Recoverable Damages in Florida Wrongful Death Suits
Florida courts award compensation in wrongful death suits based on the financial need of the surviving dependents, the expected lifespan of the deceased, and the extent to which the deceased might be at fault for his or her own death. You might recover the following damages if the court finds another party’s negligence led to the death of your family member:
- Loss of support and service calculated based on the survivor’s relationship with the deceased, net income available for distribution, and the cost to replace service. The value of future loss is based on the combined life expectancies of the survivor and the deceased; when survivors are under age 18, the court may look at the length of time until their 18th birthday.
- Loss of companionship for a spouse.
- Emotional pain and suffering for spouse and/or minor children, for parents who survive the loss of a minor child, and for parents of an adult child where no other survivors exist.
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance for minors when no surviving spouse exists.
- Medical costs from the accident up until the time of death including hospital stay, ambulance, surgery, X-rays, and medication for any survivor who paid them.
- Burial costs and funeral expenses for any survivor who paid them.
In some cases, the court might award damages to the estate of the deceased. The estate may receive compensation for:
- Lost wages for missing work 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 relatives
- Medical costs
- Burial costs and funeral expenses
Contact a Clearwater Wrongful Death Attorney When You Lose a Loved One
The loss of a loved one is traumatic. That’s why you need an experienced professional to deal with the intricacies of a wrongful death action.
Wrongful death claims are complicated cases which require the experience and knowledge of a skilled personal injury lawyer. If you have lost a loved one due to another party’s intentional harm or negligence, your family deserves compensation for the financial and emotional loss you have incurred. If you have suffered the loss of a family member or loved one as a result of the negligent conduct of an individual or corporation, contact one of our compassionate and seasoned Clearwater wrongful death attorneys at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman online, or call at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) to schedule a free, no obligation, and confidential evaluation to determine your eligibility for compensation.
Our Clearwater wrongful death attorneys at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman will assist you in thoroughly investigating the potential case and setting up an estate so that you may seek proper compensation in accordance with Florida probate law.
We know this is a difficult time for you and your family, and are here to handle the details of the claim while you cope with your loss. We will evaluate and investigate your case and fight to hold liable parties accountable for your loss. Like most personal injury law firms, we handle personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis. You aren’t required to pay upfront; instead, we recover attorney fees from any compensation we secure for you in the form of a settlement or verdict in your favor.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765