The loss of a family member can leave survivors to cope with a range of difficult emotions: shock, pain, grief, anger, and more. Those emotions can be complicated and compounded by the stress, anxiety, and depression brought on by losing even more than a beloved spouse, child, or parent. When a family member dies, their contribution to household income may disappear, they may incur substantial medical bills for their care prior to death, and they may face other large expenses, including funeral and burial costs to cover.
If your loved one lost their life because of someone else’s negligence or intent to harm, you might weigh your options: Should you hire a wrongful death lawyer? Or should you just move on because the potential fight for compensation might just make everything seem worse?
The fact is you may not have to endure the added burden of financial stress when you are already coping with the grief and related challenges that come with continuing life without your loved one. Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s death, you may qualify to recover damages for the losses that you and your family have suffered. Speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney at Sibley Dolman in Fort Lauderdale at (754) 208-1130 or contact us online for a free consultation to discuss your potential claim.
What is Wrongful Death?
Under Florida law, a wrongful death is when someone dies because of the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters.
Wrongful death can occur anywhere: at work, on the roads, in a hospital, at a beach, or in a place of business or public accommodation. Every case has factors that make it unique, but some more common scenarios that may give rise to wrongful death claims include:
Car, Truck, and Motorcycle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are common, and unfortunately, victims of more serious accidents involving cars, trucks, or motorcycles often have greater risks of injuries and fatalities.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reports 225 traffic fatalities occurred in Broward County in 2017. Early available data from 2018 reveals that approximately 160 fatalities had occurred in that same county by November 2018. The law holds negligent drivers liable for the damages they cause in any accident that occurs because of their violation of traffic laws, driving under the influence, driving distracted, or driving recklessly.
Slips, Trips, and Falls
Falls are among the leading reasons for emergency room visits, hospitalization, and accidental deaths. Children and the elderly are especially at risk, and in Florida, people older than 65 account for almost 90 percent of fatalities related to unintentional falls.
Common injuries from falls include fractures, dislocations, and other internal injuries, including bleeding, and in worst case scenarios, traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Frequently when someone dies from a slip, trip, or fall, it is because they suffered a TBI. However, people may also die when their initial injuries have subsequent complications or resulting infections.
According to the Florida Department of Health, about 200 fatalities occurred from unintentional falls in 2017 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Although slips, trips, and falls can happen at anywhere, when they occur because a property owner failed to maintain safe conditions that caused the accident and subsequent damages, the family of a victim may have a claim for wrongful death.
On-the-job injuries lead to hundreds of deaths each year throughout the U.S. Fatal injuries may occur in accidents caused by dangerous working conditions, exposure to toxic chemicals, motor vehicle accidents, or falls.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reports more than 300 workplace fatalities in 2016 in Florida. Workplace related transportation incidents led to 105 fatalities, unintentional falls caused approximately 60 deaths, 50 deaths were caused by exposure to dangerous substances or environments, and the remainder of fatalities were caused by fires, explosions, and dangerous machinery.
If a workplace accident caused the loss of your loved one, their employer, a property owner, or another third party may have liability for a wrongful death claim.
Doctors and other medical professionals are charged with the highest duty of care to their patients. They are called upon to diagnose, treat, care for, and to “do no harm” to those suffering from diseases, illnesses, and injuries. When a medical professional breaches the duty of care, their negligence may cause devastating results.
Medical malpractice that may give rise to a wrongful death claim include situations such as a doctor who failed to diagnose or misdiagnosed an illness or disease, a medical professional or facility that provided less than the standard of care, a surgeon who acted negligently during surgery, or a pharmacist who erred in filling a prescription. In a recent local case, a Florida physician was charged with medical malpractice after one of his patients died while he was performing cosmetic surgery. In addition to not being a board certified plastic surgeon, he allegedly did not go through proper pre-surgical protocols and performed procedures in unsanitary conditions.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?
Florida has a two-year statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim. Under Florida law, a wrongful death claim may only be filed by a survivor when the deceased person would have been able to recover for a personal injury claim had they survived. The wrongful death claim must be filed by a personal representative of the deceased on behalf of a:
- Child or children under 18, including those who were adopted, or another blood relative who was a dependent
- Child or children over 18 if their deceased parent was unmarried
- Parents of minor children
- Parents of adult children if there was no spouse or children
What Kinds of Damages are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Damages available under Florida law for a wrongful death claim vary based on the financial situation of any surviving dependents, the predicted lifespan of the now deceased person, and the extent to which the deceased may have been at fault for their own death.
If someone else’s negligence or intent to harm caused a wrongful death, Florida law allows survivors to recover:
- Loss of support and services from the deceased. Calculated based on the relationship between the claimant and the deceased, the income available for distribution among surviving family members, and the replacement value of the services that were provided by the deceased. Future losses, based on the joint life expectancies of the survivor/s and the deceased, may also be considered. If the survivors include young children, the length of time until those children reach adulthood may also be a compensable damage.
- Loss of companionship and protection. Applicable when the survivor is a widow or widower.
- Mental pain and suffering. Available for a surviving spouse, minor children if there is no spouse, parents who survive a minor child, and parents of an adult child if there are no other survivors.
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance. Applicable to minors when there is no surviving spouse.
- Medical expenses. For all costs related to the injuries that led to death, including ambulance, emergency department services, surgery, radiology, and medication.
- Burial and funeral expenses.
In some cases, a personal representative unrelated to the family may file a claim on behalf of the estate of the deceased. The court may award damages to the estate, including:
- Lost wages from the date the victim was injured until his or her death
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate when there are no blood survivors or spouse
- Medical costs
- Burial and funeral costs
Common Defense Tactics in Wrongful Death Cases
Defendants in wrongful death cases will typically use the same types of tactics again and again to avoid liability and limit financial responsibility for damages. Two major strategies frequently seen in Florida are defendants 1) questioning the causal connection in the case, and 2) placing some or all of the blame on the victim.
Attorneys for the plaintiff must prove the following elements to successfully litigate a wrongful death claim:
- The defendant must have had a legal duty of care to the deceased. Some examples of this are a property owner who has a duty of care to warn visitors of dangerous conditions on their property, a medical professional who has a duty of care to diagnose their patient correctly, and a driver who has a duty of care to others on the road to follow traffic regulations and operate their vehicle safely.
- The defendant must have breached their duty of care. Using the former examples, this may include the property owner who knew he had a loose step but did not warn visitors, the distracted driver who caused an accident by texting while driving, and the doctor who prescribed the wrong dosage or type of medication to their patient.
- The breach of the duty of care caused the injury that resulted in death.
Attorneys for the defense may argue against any of these elements by asserting there was no duty of care, there was no breach, or, if there was clearly a duty and it was breached, that the breach was not the cause of injury. Making a causation argument is often a way to attempt to shift blame to the deceased.
Although Florida law allows surviving family members to sue in the case of wrongful death, Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that even if the defendant has been found negligent, a portion of fault may still be attributed to others, including the deceased. By successfully arguing the deceased had fault for his or her own fatal injuries, any award to the plaintiff may be reduced by the apportionment of fault. For example, if the award is $1,000,000 and the court finds the deceased was 20 percent negligent in their own death, the award will be reduced to $800,000. Additionally, in cases where a survivor actually had partial responsibility for the wrongful death, they may lose the right to recover any damages.
Comparative negligence laws give defendants incentive to argue that the deceased or another party was partially or wholly responsible for the wrongful death. They may try to do this in a variety of creative ways, for example:
- If the wrongful death was caused by a motor vehicle accident, the defendant might claim that the deceased was speeding, driving distracted, or driving under the influence, and that contributed to the accident.
- If the wrongful death occurred at a workplace, the employer or their insurance carrier may claim the deceased was not following proper safety regulations, was using dangerous equipment outside of its intended use, or the employee was warned and assumed the risk of the dangerous conditions that led to their death.
- If the wrongful death was caused by a slip and fall injury, the property owner may claim that the dangerous condition was marked and the deceased ignored it, or the deceased was otherwise distracted and should have seen the hazard.
Hire an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale
Successfully bringing a wrongful death claim may require an experienced personal injury lawyer who understands Florida law and the complexities of the legal system. The lawyers at Sibley Dolman in Fort Lauderdale know that losing a loved one through someone else’s negligence or intent to harm is an especially difficult situation for survivors to endure. It is our job to help people at the very worst moments of their lives, to analyze the facts, advise, negotiate, build a case for legitimate claims, and advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves. We will anticipate defense strategies and fight against the counterclaims and attacks used to avoid liability. If we accept your case, we will work to ensure that you and your family get the best possible outcome.
Losing a loved one is traumatic, and comes with steep emotional and financial consequences. If you have lost your loved because of a wrongful death, contact the lawyers at Sibley Dolman at (754) 208-1130 or online to schedule a free consultation and learn more.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
100 SE 3rd Ave
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33394
What Our Clients Have to Say:
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