When a loved one unexpectedly dies, friends and family are left to deal with many confusing details and expenses. When a wrongful death was caused by the negligence of a third party (whether an individual, a company or other legal entity), Florida law protects the survivors’ rights to be compensated for the losses they have sustained. Trust the wrongful death attorneys at the Dolman Law Group to guide you through this difficult time. They have more than forty-six years of combined experience in litigating wrongful death cases across southern Florida.
Chapter 768 of the Florida Statutes provides for wrongful death actions governed by Florida law. Sections 16 through 26—collectively, the —make provisions for who may sue, what types of compensation are available, protection of minor and incompetent plaintiffs, attorneys’ fees, and other technical aspects of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Standing: This refers to a plaintiff’s right to sue. For example, a bystander who merely witnessed a car accident, but was not injured by it, has no standing to sue for the driver’s negligence. In the case of a wrongful death action, only specified survivors may sue the person who caused the victim’s death. Chapter 768.18 provides that the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and any blood relative or adopted sibling who was dependant upon the decedent for support or services may assert standing for a Florida wrongful death action.
Damages: Damages are the legal losses a plaintiff has sustained as a result of the defendant’s conduct. Chapter 768.21 defines the damages that are recoverable in a Florida wrongful death action. These include loss of support and services; a spouse’s loss of companionship and protection; children’s loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance; a parent’s pain and suffering for the death of a child; medical and funeral expenses; and loss of earnings.
Purpose of the Act: The explicit purpose of the Florida Wrongful Death Act, as stated in Chapter 768.17, is to shift the financial losses resulting from a wrongful death from the survivors to the wrongdoer. Judges, therefore, are to liberally construe the Act to meet this goal.
No two cases are the same, and there is no such thing as an easy or straightforward wrongful death case. This is why it is so important for survivors to protect their legal rights by seeking legal counsel as soon as possible. Here are some recent Florida cases that demonstrate the potential complications in wrongful death lawsuits:
The Sun Sentinel reported on a September 2016 accident that left an elderly Uber driver dead. The multimillionaire defendant whose Lamborghini killed the victim quickly began reassigning his real estate holdings and assets. The victim’s insurance company sued the defendant to recover money it had paid to the victim’s estate. The company claimed the Lamborghini driver—who also faced charges of DUI and vehicular manslaughter—hid assets to avoid paying insurance claims related to the fatal accident.
Bloomberg News reported on a lethal worksite gas leak that caused the deaths of three employees in Key Largo. OSHA has cited the company for federal safety violations, and proposed fines of $119, 507 for the employer. Florida workers’ compensation law further complicates this case—damages are capped in those cases, which could limit the survivors’ abilities to recover compensation for the deaths of the three workers.
The Sun Sentinel reported on an accident that caused the death of a Boca Raton bicyclist. A woman was arrested behind the wheel of a Ford F-150 at the scene of the accident with her boyfriend in the passenger’s seat. Later, she testified that the boyfriend had been driving at the time of the accident, and convinced her to get behind the wheel because his license was suspended. Prosecutors dropped charges against the woman and filed charges against her boyfriend. The case went to a criminal court jury in July 2017 to determine who was driving at the time of the accident. The family of the victim has also sued the boyfriend civilly for causing the wrongful death of the cyclist.
The parents of two teen boys who went missing at sea have been battling in court to determine whether the parents who owned the boat were liable for the boys’ wrongful death. An initial ruling held that the parents could only be sued for $500. Later, a judge ruled that the lawsuit against the parents could proceed for negligent supervision in allowing the boys to take the boat without adult supervision. The 14-year-old boys left from the Jupiter Inlet on a minimally equipped, 19-foot boat that was recovered eight months after the boys went missing. Their bodies were never found.
Complicated jurisdictional issues can also arise in wrongful death actions. This was the case when a Connecticut woman was placed in a Florida mental health facility by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The woman died from sudden heart failure while at the facility. Her family is now suing the Connecticut Department of Mental Health, the Florida Institute of Neurological Rehabilitation, and the Connecticut Valley Hospital (where the woman was treated before her transfer to Florida). The Hartford Courant reported that the facility has a lengthy history of complaints against its staff members. A Hardee County Sheriff’s report reveals that one of the two-night staffers on duty at the time of the accident was asleep, and the other was not trained in “close supervision, behavior protocols.” When asked why she didn’t start CPR right away, the staff member claimed she was shocked and did not know what to do.
While no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, it is important that individuals and companies responsible for causing wrongful deaths are held responsible for their conduct. The Dolman Law Group has extensive experience in negotiating and litigating wrongful death cases in and around Clearwater. Call (727) 451-6900 to schedule your free consultation with a wrongful death attorney today. Injury victims across southern Florida trust our professional staff, comprehensive legal knowledge, and superior customer service.