Losing a loved one leaves a vacancy in your life that nothing will fill. Worse, you may find yourself with gaping holes in your finances as you struggle to replace your loved one’s income and the services he performed for your family. While a wrongful death claim cannot fill the gaps in your life, it can provide you with financial assistance as you cope with this difficult time.
Did you lose a loved one due to another party’s negligence in Florida? The Florida Wrongful Death Attorneys at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman want to listen to you and help. Call us today at 833-552-7274.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers: The Wrongful Death Attorney You Need
Every year, across Florida, more than 13,000 people die in accidents: many of them auto accidents, slip and falls, construction accidents, and other accidents due to another party’s negligence. When you lose a loved one due to someone else’s error or inattention, you deserve compensation for your loss—and having an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side can help make that possible.
In one notable case, for example, Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers acquired a $1 million settlement for the family of a father lost in a ridesharing accident. While past results cannot guarantee the results you will receive in your claim, our attorneys can bring these advantages to your wrongful death claim:
- A clear, unbiased assessment of the funds you deserve for your loss. Often, after losing a loved one, you may have no idea how much you deserve in compensation. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers can help you take a hard look at the funds you really deserve for your loss. This includes an assessment of any settlement offer made by the insurance company, which, in many cases, may not represent the full damages you deserve for your loss.
- Someone to keep your best interests in mind throughout the claims process. When you lose a loved one, you may feel as though no one remains on your side. The party that caused your loss wants to shift liability wherever possible. The insurance company does not want to accept any more financial liability than absolutely necessary. When you have an attorney on your side, on the other hand, you will have someone who keeps your best interests in mind.
- Support and assistance that will help maximize the funds you receive for your claim. When you file a wrongful death claim, many things can reduce the compensation you receive. When you work with an experienced wrongful death attorney, on the other hand, you will receive comprehensive advice that can help you maximize the compensation you receive.
Filing Your Wrongful Death Claim
Dealing with a wrongful death can quickly leave you frustrated. Working with an attorney can help provide better answers to many of your questions after you lose a loved one in an accident.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
To file a wrongful death claim, you must have a close relationship to the deceased, usually one in which you relied on the deceased for support. The spouse of the deceased has the first right to file a wrongful death claim. After that, the children of the deceased have the next right to file a wrongful death claim. If no spouse or children exist, the deceased’s parents can file a wrongful death claim.
In some cases, others may have the right to file a wrongful death claim: for example, people who relied financially on the deceased, including elderly relatives. If no relatives can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased, the deceased’s estate can file for financial damages to make it possible to pay for the deceased’s medical bills and other final expenses.
To have grounds for a wrongful death claim, you must also have an immediate family member who died due to the negligence of another party: someone who bore a duty of care to your loved one at the time of the accident, but who neglected to take necessary steps to keep your loved one safe. Wrongful death claims arise from many accidents, including:
- Auto accidents
- Construction accidents
- Product liability accidents
- Premises liability accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home neglect
- Birth injuries
To file your wrongful death claim, you will need to identify the party or parties that caused your family member’s death. In many cases, wrongful death claims can involve more than one party. In auto accidents and medical malpractice accidents, in particular, you may identify multiple responsible parties. By working with an attorney, you can identify all parties responsible for your loved one’s death and ensure that you receive the full compensation you deserve.
Compensation in a Wrongful Death Claim
The compensation you will receive for the wrongful death of a loved one may vary. If you lost a loved one in an auto accident, for example, personal injury protection insurance may pay out just $5,000 for the loss of a loved one. Compensation from the responsible party’s insurance company may vary based on the limits of the policy. Other parties, including businesses and truckers, may carry higher-coverage insurance policies. When you file your wrongful death claim, consult with an attorney to determine everything you should include in your claim.
Common inclusions cover:
The loss of your loved one’s income. Losing the primary breadwinner in your home not only causes devastating emotional loss, it can also leave you scrambling to figure out how to handle your bills. Even if your spouse or parent did not provide the primary source of income for your family, that income could still provide a valuable source of funds for the family, without which you may find it difficult to pay your bills or cover other regular expenses. In the case of a parent who lost an adult child, the deceased may have provided significant financial support that made it possible for the parent to pay medical bills or take care of housing expenses. The loss of that income can cause financial hardship for the entire family.
Claiming your loved one’s lost income as part of your wrongful death claim may not always provide you with the funds you need to live out the rest of your life without that financial support. It can, however, provide a surviving spouse with desperately-needed time, which can make it possible for that spouse to return to school or find a new job while still covering the family’s bills and expenses.
The loss of services performed by your loved one. Even family members who did not contribute financially to the household may have offered significant contributions to the family’s budget. In fact, in many cases, the services performed by a family member can add up to significantly more than his financial income.
Talk with our attorneys to ensure that you consider all the services that your loved one performed for the family, including:
- Childcare. Caring for preschool-aged children full time in the home can save the family thousands of dollars each year in childcare expenses. Even older children who attend school may require after-school care when the primary caregiver works long hours and no alternative childcare arrangement exists.
- Care for aging family members. Many senior family members rely on assistance from loved ones to remain in their homes as long as possible. Sometimes, this comes in the form of relatively minor care: coming by to check on a senior loved one, help with some heavy cleaning tasks and yard maintenance, or deliver a meal a couple of times a week. In other cases, the deceased may have provided the primary support and care that made it possible for a senior loved one to remain at home, rather than requiring care in an assisted living facility or nursing home.
- Taking care of yard maintenance. Simply mowing a yard can cost an average of $61 each time someone comes out to take care of the mowing. A larger yard can cost even more. More significant maintenance, from keeping up with the flower beds to maintaining trees and shrubs, can cost even more when you have to hire someone else to come in and take care of it.
- Home care and maintenance tasks. Taking care of minor repairs around the house costs significantly less when you have a family member who can come in and take care of those tasks for you. When you lose the person responsible for taking care of those tasks, however, you may have to hire someone to take care of it, instead. Those costs can mount quickly, especially in older homes.
- House cleaning services. You may not realize how much effort goes into keeping the home clean and tidy until you lose the person with primary responsibility for taking care of those tasks. Bringing in a house cleaner can help alleviate some of the stress associated with that responsibility, but it can also add up fast in terms of financial cost.
- Cooking for the family. Taking care of the shopping, preparing meals, and cleaning up afterward: All of those tasks take up a significant portion of the day for many families. When you lose the person responsible for taking care of the bulk of those tasks, you may struggle to keep your family fed. Restaurant meals can make up for it temporarily, but that also adds another cost to your already-stretched budget.
The loss of your loved one’s companionship, support, and advice. When you lose a loved one, the loss of their presence often permeates every area of your life. Losing a parent can leave a child unable to seek out advice and support from someone who should have remained a constant source of support throughout his life. Losing a spouse can leave the surviving spouse struggling to live life alone when previously, all hopes and dreams included the deceased. When a parent loses a child, the parent also loses all the hopes and dreams associated with that child as well as a source of support as they age. While a wrongful death claim cannot replace the space occupied by your loved one in your life, including the loss of that companionship can provide you with vitally needed funds that can help you move forward with your life.
Your loved one’s expenses before death. Your loved one need not have died immediately in an accident for you to have grounds for a wrongful death claim following his loss. In some cases, your loved one may linger for some time before death. During that period, your loved one may acquire substantial medical bills. A long hospitalization or a stay in a rehabilitation facility, for example, can add up fast: the daily cost of a hospital stay can total nearly $4,000, an amount that only increases if your loved one required multiple surgeries or procedures to recover from the injuries.
Your loved one’s pain and suffering before death. If your loved one lingered for a long time before death, he may have experienced substantial pain and suffering: both physical pain associated with the injuries that ultimately caused his death and emotional anguish at his limitations, his inability to support his family, or the knowledge of his pending death. As part of your wrongful death claim, you can claim compensation for the pain and suffering of your loved one before his death.
Florida Wrongful Death FAQ
Dealing with the loss of a family member or loved one is devastating. It brings with it emotional and financial burdens that you may not have expected and for which you likely did not plan. While any loss is horrible, processing such a loss may prove even more difficult when the death occurred suddenly and due to someone else’s negligence.
If you have lost a loved one because of another party’s negligent or intentional act, it will fall to you to handle any legal action against the other party. Read on for answers to commonly asked questions that arise when faced with pursuing a wrongful death action.
What is wrongful death?
A death qualifies as a wrongful death in Florida when the individual’s death is caused by a wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty that would have otherwise entitled the victim to recover damages had he or she not died.
Wrongful deaths are common in the following scenarios:
- Premise liability accidents: More commonly referred to as slip and fall accidents, these are accidents that occur due to unsafe conditions on another party’s property. Premise liability cases don’t just include falls. Premise liability encompasses any accident that occurs on another party’s property when that party has failed to make the property appropriately safe or warn of hazardous conditions. Falls are the second-leading cause of death for individuals over the age of 65.
- Car accidents: Car accidents are one of the leading causes of fatalities and are often caused by another driver’s negligence. In Florida, more than 3,000 fatalities took place from vehicle crashes in just one year. Drivers are guilty of negligence whenever they violate traffic laws or regulations, such as speeding or failing to obey traffic signals.
- Pedestrian accidents: Car accidents are not the only type of accident on the roads that causes fatalities. More than 6,000 pedestrians died in accidents in 2018. Pedestrian accidents often occur due to the negligence of motor vehicle drivers.
- Workplace accidents: Employers have a responsibility to ensure safe working conditions for their employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 300 work-related fatalities in Florida in just one recent year. The two most common causes were transportation incidents and slip and fall incidents. Other causes included exposure to harmful substances or environments and contact with objects and equipment.
- Medical malpractice: Medical malpractice is the cause of wrongful death when a provider makes a negligent error that is the direct cause of the patient’s death. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States with more than 250,000 Americans dying each year from medical errors.
- Product liability: If products are not properly tested or manufactured before they are released to the public, they can cause injury and even death. Failures in products from food to medication to cars have caused the death of innocent users. The Consumer Product Safety Commission catalogs recalled products and associated risks.
What is negligence?
Negligence is the failure of an individual to behave with the same level of care as someone of ordinary prudence under the same circumstances. Establishing negligence is a critical component of a wrongful death claim. The defendant in a wrongful death case must have owed a duty to the victim and breached that duty in a way that caused the victim’s death.
Examples of negligence include:
- A driver of a motor vehicle driving under the influence of alcohol.
- A medical provider prescribing incorrect medication.
- An employer failing to provide appropriate safety equipment for employees.
- A product manufacturer failing to conduct thorough safety testing before releasing a product.
- A business owner failing to fix a hazard or notify visitors of the danger.
Establishing negligence is a very fact-intensive process that generally requires collecting a variety of evidence. An attorney can assist in evaluating the strength of a negligence claim and securing sufficient evidence to support the claim.
Who can recover on behalf of the victim?
If every beneficiary were authorized to bring a wrongful death claim, it would result in numerous and duplicative filings, all against the same defendant. Florida law requires that the victim’s personal representative bring a wrongful death action for the benefit of the victim’s spouse, children, and/or parents.
The personal representative is determined by the victim’s will or estate planning documents. This individual must pursue damages on behalf of the victim by filing a claim against the negligent party that caused the death. Any wrongful death complaint must identify all potential beneficiaries and their relationships to the victim.
The personal representative is also responsible for distributing damages between the estate and survivors after the conclusion of the action to all interested parties, including potential creditors and any surviving spouse, children, and other family members. The personal representative must determine a fair and reasonable method for apportioning the recovery between all of the relevant parties.
Court approval is only required if: (1) a survivor objects to the distribution; (2) the settlement affects a minor; or (3) the settlement affects a survivor deemed incompetent. The personal representative may seek the court’s approval, even when not required, to ensure that the distribution is not challenged in the future.
What other parties will be involved?
While it is easy to think of a wrongful death case or settlement occurring solely between the personal representative and the defendant, there are often other parties involved. First, the personal representative will be responsible for representing the interests of the survivors and any creditors.
These third parties will help establish damages and determine what constitutes a reasonable recovery. They are likely to bring strong opinions to the personal representative and have a vested interest in the outcome of the case.
There are often insurance companies involved as well. Consider the following scenarios:
- If the death occurred in a car accident, the defendant likely has an automobile insurance policy.
- If the accident occurred at work, the employer’s insurance provider will likely be involved.
- If the accident was a premise liability accident, the property owner is likely covered by homeowner’s or other property owner’s insurance.
- If the death was a result of a medical error, the medical provider or institution probably carries medical malpractice insurance.
Insurance companies are very experienced in navigating nursing home and wrongful death claims. It is in their best interest to avoid paying all of the damages owed to the decedent’s beneficiaries. If you are a personal representative, a personal representative can help you navigate these complicated relationships.
What damages are recoverable after a wrongful death?
It is impossible to put a dollar amount on the pain and suffering caused by a loved one’s death. There is no doubt, however, that the survivors will face significant financial burdens, especially if the victim was a significant financial contributor to the family.
Florida law allows for the following damages in a wrongful death action:
- Lost support and services. Survivors can recover the value of lost support and services that they would have received from the victim from the time of the injury until his or her death, as well as future loss of support. A claim for loss of support and services will include consideration of the survivor’s relationship to the victim, the amount of probable income available for distribution to the survivor, and the cost of replacement of the services to the survivor. Joint life expectancies of the victim and the survivor are important in establishing the value of future losses.
- Loss of companionship. To acknowledge the life-long emotional toll of losing a loved one, a surviving spouse may recover for loss of companionship and protection. Minor children may also recover for loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, but adult children may only recover if there is no surviving spouse.
- Mental pain and suffering. Surviving spouses and minor children can recover for mental pain and suffering associated with their loss. Parents may also recover if the victim was a minor child.
- Medical and funeral expenses. Any survivor who paid medical or funeral expenses can recover these expenses.
- Loss of earnings. The personal representative can seek recovery of lost earnings of the decedent that occurred between the date of the accident and the date of the death. Lost future earnings are also recoverable if a spouse or other lineal descendants, such as children or grandchildren, survive the decedent.
Calculating damages may prove an incredibly complicated process, especially when it involves claims that seek compensation for damages that don’t have an obvious monetary value, such as loss of companionship. An attorney can help analyze damages claims and involve relevant experts if necessary.
What is the statute of limitations?
A statute of limitations is the period of time an interested party has to bring legal action against a defendant. For most wrongful death claims, the statute of limitations is two years, meaning that any action must occur within two years of the victim’s death.
There are a few exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations:
- Medical malpractice: While the statute of limitations is still two years for medical malpractice claims, the clock does not start running until the interested parties discover that a medical error was the cause of death.
- Murder: When an individual is murdered, there is often a criminal case and a civil case. The criminal investigation may take significant time but is necessary to uncover the responsible individual. Because a civil case cannot begin until the responsible individual is as a defendant, the statute of limitations will not begin to run until the responsible individual is identified or apprehended.
- Government entity: The statute of limitations for any wrongful death action brought against a government entity is four years. Pursuing recovery from a government entity requires navigating complicated bureaucratic processes and red tape.
An experienced attorney can help you determine the relevant statute of limitations based on the unique facts of your situation.
What happens if the case settles?
The personal representative may negotiate a settlement rather than taking the case to a conclusion through the court. A settlement is favorable if the personal representative is unsure of the outcome at trial or wants to avoid the costs associated with litigating the case.
The parties can negotiate to structure the settlement in two different ways:
- Lump sum: A lump-sum settlement is exactly what it sounds like. The defendant agrees to pay the entire settlement in one payment. Survivors receive a single payment for the full amount of damages. This approach makes sense when there are significant immediate damages, such as medical expenses. A lump-sum payment allows the survivors to pay off these expenses and use the remaining amounts to invest and plan for the future. A lump-sum payment may prove more complicated for the defendant if the amount is large, as the defendant will be required to come up with the amount all at once and with little notice.
- Structured settlement: In a structured settlement, the defendant pays the settlement amount in agreed upon increments over time. A structured settlement is often more feasible for a defendant. It may be less preferable to the survivors, unless they anticipate significant long-term expenses resulting from the victim’s death. Structured settlements are very difficult to modify.
An attorney can help you analyze any settlement offer to ensure it is fair and ensure that you understand all potential future implications.
Why should I use an attorney for a wrongful death action?
If you have lost a loved one or are the personal representative for the estate of a wrongful death victim, you are likely to find yourself overwhelmed by the administrative, financial, and emotional strains associated with the case.
An experienced Florida wrongful death attorney can lighten these burdens by:
- Analyzing the case-specific facts
- Compiling and evaluating evidence of the defendant’s negligence
- Preparing a comprehensive assessment of damages
- Coordinating with experts on complicated damages claims
- Communicating with other parties, including survivors and insurance companies
- Preparing all court filings
- Evaluating any settlement offer made by the defendant
The attorneys at Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group have deep expertise in pursuing wrongful death claims. Contact our Florida personal injury lawyers today for your free consultation.
The Florida Wrongful Death Attorney You Need
When you lose a loved one due to another party’s negligence, you have more than enough things to deal with, from handling funeral and burial arrangements to rearranging your life to ensure that your family receives the care it needs. Leave your wrongful death claim in the hands of a compassionate, determined attorney who will represent your family’s best interests and increase the odds that you will receive the compensation you deserve for your loss.
With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274, or you can write to us using our online contact page.