The loss of a loved one is devastating. After losing a family member, the last thing you want to think about is involving lawyers and possibly taking legal action. However, because there are strict deadlines imposed by Florida law for bringing wrongful death lawsuits for the loss of loved ones, it is important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Time is also of the essence in order to preserve any evidence that may prove liability where the wrongful acts of another caused the untimely death. A Sarasota wrongful death attorney who is well versed in Florida wrongful death law can assist families in determining who may be at fault and the extent of other parties’ liability for a fatal accident.
What Does Wrongful Death Mean and What Does It Involve?
When a person is injured and some else is at fault, legal claims can be brought against the wrongdoer to try and compensate the injured person for their losses. When the injured person died as a result of the wrongdoer’s acts—either negligent or intentional—it changes the nature of the legal claim that can be brought. A loved one’s wrongful death can be caused by a number of different wrongful acts but some of the most common scenarios involve the following: Workplace hazards
- Fatal car accidents
- Motorcycle fatalities
- Truck accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian fatalities
- Boating accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home negligence
- Defective pharmaceutical drugs
- Dangerous medical devices
- On-the-job accidents
- Medication errors
- Intentional criminal actions
- Surgical errors
- Birth injuries
- Fatal brain injuries
- Traumatic spinal cord injuries
In these situations, a legal claim can often be made on behalf of the survivors or beneficiaries of the person who died. These claims are typically made by surviving family members or those who were financially dependent upon the decedent. These claims are intended to try and compensate the surviving loved ones for medical expenses incurred prior to death, the loss of earnings of the decedent during their expected natural life, and loss of consortium or familial relationships.
Florida’s Wrongful Death Act Helps Protect Sarasota Families—Time Is of the Essence
While the loss of a loved one or family member cannot ever be fully compensated, Florida’s Wrongful Death Act (Florida Statutes Sections 768.16-768.26) is intended to help grieving families by shifting the losses resulting from wrongful death from the decedent to the parties responsible. Statute 768.19 specifically states that “when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default or breach of contract or warranty” of another, the estate of the deceased person may bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
In the past, legal claims for injured victims terminated at the time of the person’s death. This was often an injustice for victims who died as a result of their injuries. In 1883, Florida legislators enacted a statute allowing lawsuits to recover for the wrongful death of a human being when caused by the wrongful acts of another person, company, or entity. The statute has since progressed from allowing very limited recovery in narrow circumstances to allowing broader recovery in multiple circumstances.
Today, wrongful death claims are brought on behalf of statutory survivors. Wrongful death actions are often brought by the Personal Representative of the loved one’s estate, who may also be the Executor or Administrator. A personal representative is a position designated by will or appointed by the probate court after certain requirements, like notice to all interested parties, are met. Proof of representation may be shown in certain documents like Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration, or Letters of Representation. The requirements of probate can be complex—and involve considerations like whether or not there was a will or trust—so it is important to have an experienced Florida lawyer assist you in evaluating the specifics of your situation.
Some Examples of Wrongful Death Cases in Florida
As reported in the Sun Sentinel, in September 2018, the Florida Supreme Court ordered tobacco company R.J. Reynolds to pay more than $18 million to a woman after she lost her mother to lung cancer in 1993. The court determined that the evidence showed that the woman suffered the loss of parental companionship, support, and guidance, as well as suffering mental pain and suffering from the time of her mother’s diagnosis until her death.
In 2014, a Palm Beach jury had awarded $6 million to the woman in compensatory damages, but that award was reduced to $4.5 million as the jury found that the deceased woman was 25 percent responsible for her own death by continuing to smoke. However, another $14 million in punitive damages was also ordered. In 2016, an appellate court reversed the decision, and the plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court in 2017. Part of the success of the case was due to a 1990 change to Florida’s wrongful death statutes, which allows adult children to recover pain and suffering damages following the wrongful death of a parent. Before the law was changed, those damages were only permitted for minor children.
In August 2018, the mother of a Delray Beach officer killed in a traffic accident filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver of the car that caused the accident, as well as the owner of that car. According to a report from WPTV, the officer was killed while vacationing in the Florida Keys when the scooter she was riding on was hit by a car. The car was making a sudden turn at the time of the accident. The driver of the car was charged with DUI manslaughter. The suit contends that the officer’s mother was deprived of her daughter’s support, service, and companionship, and that she has suffered mental pain in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
According to an article from WINK, in September 2018, the City of Cape Coral settled with the family of Jessica Green for around $200,000. The family filed a wrongful death suit against the city after Green was killed in a car accident in 2017, six days after Hurricane Irma, due to hurricane debris in the road. The article notes that a downed tree was blocking the stop sign at the intersection where the accident occurred and that the city had been notified about that tree a day before the crash took place. In an interview, the other driver involved with the accident agreed with the family’s decision to file the lawsuit, stating that the city should have taken care of the downed tree immediately.
In another wrongful death case following Hurricane Irma, a suit was filed in September 2018, one year after a 90-year-old woman died after the power went out at the nursing home where she resided. The woman remained on the second floor of the nursing home for more than 24 hours during and after the hurricane, although the air conditioning wasn’t working and the temperatures rose, the Palm Beach Post reported. She died, in spite of being later transferred to a hospital. The suit was filed against the facility’s owner and former executive director by the woman’s son. According to the suit, the then-executive director of the facility declined offers of generators from the police and other city officials and refused to move second-floor residents to the ground floor, where it was cooler. The son had called the facility to check on his mother after the hurricane, he was not told that the power had gone out and was assured that she was fine, the article noted. The lawsuit states that the son and his sister were denied the opportunity to take their mother to a safe place, or to say goodbye to her.
The families of a Florida couple killed in 2016 filed a wrongful death suit earlier this year against a man who waged a “zombie like attack” against the couple in their garage. An article stated that the victims’ loved ones were discouraged by the slow legal process, as well as by arguments from the defense that the man responsible for the attack had mental health issues. The suit claims that the 20-year-old suspect had demonstrated a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse as well as violent behavior before the attack. FBI lab results revealed that, in spite of claims that the man was high on a drug called flakka at the time of the attack, only a small amount of THC was found in his system. The female decedent in the case suffered multiple stab wounds and bone fractures in the attack. Her male partner was allegedly killed and partially eaten by the attacker. The damages sought in the case exceed $15,000,000, the report noted.
Florida’s Wrongful Death Act and Who Has a Statutory Right to Bring a Claim
A Sarasota, Florida wrongful death attorney will also help you figure out who has a statutory right to bring a wrongful death claim and how to do so. This can vary depending on a number of factors, including:
- Whether it was a spouse or parent who passed away, and if so, whether that person had a surviving spouse but no children; a surviving spouse and children; or children but no surviving spouse.
- Whether it was a child that passed away, and if so, whether it was a minor child or an adult child; and whether that person left surviving parents, a surviving spouse, or surviving children.
- In the absence of a surviving parent or child, whether the person had surviving siblings, close relatives, or other interested parties.
These nuanced considerations impact what claims can be brought, the processes required to bring them, and what losses may be recovered. Under Florida wrongful death law, the types of losses that can be compensated vary depending on the circumstances. Examples of the types of losses that may be recoverable include:
- Medical and funeral expenses
- Loss of companionship and protection
- Mental pain and suffering
- Loss of support and services from the date of injury to the date of death
- Future loss of support and services from the date of death
- Loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance
- Loss of earnings of the decedent from the date of injury to the date of death
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate
Who Can Be Held Liable in a Wrongful Death Suit?
In wrongful death cases, the liability falls on the individual or individuals whose negligent actions caused the death. But there are others who can be held liable as well, including:
- The owner of the property where the death occurred or the owner of the vehicle that caused the accident, even if that individual was not driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
- The staff of a company or facility if their negligent or reckless actions caused the death, along with owners and managers of the company or facility.
- Government officials, if the death was caused on government property and was due to the negligence of a government employee.
- The makers, manufacturers, or distributors of products that are unsafe, are mislabeled, or otherwise fail and lead to a person’s death.
Comparative Fault in Wrongful Death Cases
In Florida, the principle of comparative fault applies to wrongful death cases. What this means is that the judge or jury determines on a percentage basis everyone who was at fault for the accident. This means that multiple individuals or entities can be found liable for the accident, including the deceased individual for whom the case was filed. Finding that at least some of the blame lies with the victim doesn’t mean that others don’t have liability and doesn’t negate the need for the case. Depending on the circumstances, however, it does mean that the damages that are sought in the case may be reduced.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA – Sarasota Office