Do I Need a Wrongful Death Attorney?
A wrongful death lawyer handles lawsuits for families who have lost a loved one due to the negligence or wrongful act of another party. In Florida, Statute 768.19 a wrongful death is “when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default or breach of contract or warranty.” In these cases, the estate of the deceased person may file a civil lawsuit.
In addition to handling these civil suits, wrongful death lawyers often have experience with personal injury cases. A wrongful death attorney can help families hold responsible parties financially accountable for the losses they suffered.
Establishing Responsibility in Wrongful Death Cases
Florida residents are aware of the number of fatal accidents on Florida roadways each year. According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), more than 3,000 people lost their lives due to a traffic accident in 2018. Of all accident fatalities, slightly over 10 percent involved an impaired driver behind the wheel. Legally, driving while impaired is considered negligent conduct. Consciously deciding to drive after using alcohol or drugs is choosing to put others in danger. A death caused by a car accident involving an impaired driver may provide the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Establishing responsibility in a wrongful death case does not require the criminal liability of the responsible party. Medical malpractice cases commonly provide for civil liability, even though the physician’s actions are not considered a crime. For example, a physician may have failed to properly diagnose cancer and delayed treatment caused the loss of your loved one’s life. The medical personnel’s failure to diagnose cancer is not a criminal act. However, treatment providers may be held civilly responsible for expenses and losses resulting from the patient’s death.
Wrongful Death Cases versus Other Personal Injury Cases
Generally, the decedent’s ability to bring a personal injury claim, had they survived, is a required element of a wrongful death claim. In other words, the circumstances of the accident would have entitled the decedent to bring a personal injury action. Some examples include:
- Murder and manslaughter. A physical attack resulting in loss of a life may enable family members to file a wrongful death claim. Had the victim not lost their lives, they could have filed a personal injury lawsuit. The victim would be entitled to recover medical bills, time lost from work during their recovery, and, potentially, punitive damages.
- Medical malpractice. When a doctor performs an unnecessary surgery and the victim loses their lives, the doctor may face a wrongful death claim. Had the victim survived the surgical procedure, they would have been able to file a civil lawsuit themselves. The personal injury suit would operate to hold the doctor accountable for their mistakes.
- Negligent actions. If a truck driver’s failure to follow safety guidelines causes an accident, he or she may bear liability for wrongful death. If the driver fails to ensure their load is secure causing them to lose control, which results in the death of another, they may be responsible. Had the victim survived, they would have been entitled to compensation. The victim may recover the costs of medical bills, lost wages, and other damages directly resulting from the accident.
Several types of accidents can entitle surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim. For example, accidents on construction sites caused by unsafe conditions, accidents involving defective products, or brain injuries sustained as a result of a car or truck accident. Anyone who believes their loved one’s death could have been prevented should speak with an attorney. An experienced attorney who understands wrongful death laws can help you navigate your claim.
Who Can File Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Florida law allows only the personal representative of an estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A personal representative may be a person named in the decedent’s will. In the absence of a will, the court will a personal representative. The personal representative acts to file a claim on behalf of surviving family members. The person who files the lawsuit is responsible for providing the names of all survivors who may benefit from the lawsuit.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed on behalf of a surviving parent, spouse, child, or blood relative who was dependent on the decedent for support. Additionally, the child of an unmarried person may benefit if the deceased parent was identified before birth and was contributing to their support.
Once the personal representative is identified, they may contact a wrongful death lawyer to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of the deceased and their surviving family members. The primary beneficiaries of the lawsuit will be the person’s surviving family members, including their parents, spouses, and children.
Types of Damages That Can Be Collected in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When a person survives an injury or illness caused by another’s negligent act or willful conduct, they are entitled to damages. Typically, these damages cover medical expenses, including rehabilitation costs, diagnostic tests, and prescriptions necessary to facilitate their recovery.
Additionally, they are entitled to compensation for time lost from work while recovering from their injuries. They may also recover other financial and non-financial damages. These same damages may be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit. In addition, wrongful death suits also allow recovery for expenses related to death, such as funeral and burial expenses.
Family members may be entitled to other non-economic damages. The nature of these damages makes it difficult to predict the amount of compensation a family may receive. For example, a child who loses a parent loses the parent’s companionship, guidance, and future inheritance. A surviving spouse may also receive compensation for the loss of companionship among other damages.
Establishing Proof in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Similar to a personal injury lawsuit, one must establish certain facts to be successful when filing a wrongful death lawsuit. First, it is important to understand the person responsible for your loved one’s death need not have been held criminally responsible. However, you must be able to prove the person’s behavior was reckless, intentional, or negligent. Additionally, you must show that the person’s reckless, intentional or negligent behavior caused your loved one’s death. You must also show that you or your family members suffered damages as a result of the death.
To prove negligent behavior, one must demonstrate the person responsible for the death failed to exercise reasonable care. Reasonable care means a person acted in a manner that any other person may have acted under the same circumstances. For example, when a driver approaches a pedestrian in a crosswalk, the driver slows the vehicle to a stop. Reasonable drivers in these circumstances bring the vehicle to a stop until the pedestrian is safely out of the roadway.
An inattentive driver, distracted by a text message, who does not see the pedestrian in the crosswalk is not acting reasonably. In other words, texting while driving may be considered negligent behavior. In sum, texting while driving is negligent behavior because a reasonable person understands inattentively operating a motor vehicle is dangerous and irresponsible.
Connecting Negligence to Accident Injury
After establishing negligent behavior, a wrongful death attorney must show that behavior contributed to the death of your loved one. Put simply, because the driver was texting, they didn’t see the pedestrian. Instead of slowing the vehicle to a stop, they hit the pedestrian, causing their death. In this case, the driver’s negligent behavior caused the death of the pedestrian. In this situation, you may have a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. If it cannot be shown that a person’s behavior caused the death, the person will not be held accountable.
For example, a physician would not be liable for a patient’s death if after diagnosing the patient, he or she refuses treatment. If the patient’s death was caused by cancer, the physician will not be liable. The patient chose to forego treatment, thus the doctor did not cause the patient’s death. In this case, there would be no basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Finally, one must establish there were damages as a result of the death of a loved one. Unexpected funeral and burial expenses qualify as damages. Although ultimately unsuccessful, victims of a car accident may undergo extensive medical treatment resulting in costly medical bills. The loss of a parent or spouse as a result of someone’s negligent behavior can have long-lasting financial repercussions. Financial repercussions may be particularly damaging if the decedent was the sole breadwinner of the family. All of these factors play a role in establishing damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Do I Need a Wrongful Death Lawyer?
If you believe a loved one’s death could have been avoided, you should contact a wrongful death lawyer. They can provide advice and information before you decide to pursue legal action. Should you decide to pursue a lawsuit, you will need an experienced wrongful death lawyer. Wrongful death lawsuits are complicated and a lawyer will help you navigate the process.
Florida laws require a personal representative to file the lawsuit on behalf of the decedent and their family members. You will need to determine who is the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. Then determine whether a personal representative was named in the decedent’s will or needs to be appointed by the court. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations that you must take into consideration when filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
A statute of limitations pertains to the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after losing a loved one. The time will vary depending on the incident that led to the death of your loved one. For example, a wrongful death suit following a fatal car accident must be filed within two years of the death. If your loved one died as a result of medical malpractice, you may have up to four years to file a lawsuit. An attorney can help you determine important deadlines regarding your case.
Personal Injury Lawyers Serve as Wrongful Death Lawyers
Often, personal injury lawyers will also be experienced in wrongful death matters. Because both personal injury cases and wrongful death cases require many of the same elements, attorneys handle both types of cases. Many personal injury cases, particularly, car accidents and medical malpractice cases are settled out of court. On the other hand, many wrongful death cases go to trial.
You will need to work with an attorney who has experience trying cases in court before a judge and jury. Hiring the right lawyer is important because you want to work with an attorney who acts in your best interests. A wrongful death lawyer can act as your advocate and help you understand the best way to proceed.
The loss of a loved one is always difficult on family members. Grief, devastation, and financial worries can feel overwhelming in the aftermath of a loss. A wrongful death lawyer can help you understand your rights and help to identify the individuals responsible for your loss. An experienced wrongful death lawyer understands you are facing a lifetime of pain and loss. They will work to help you recover financially. When another causes the death of a loved one, you should not have to suffer the financial consequences.
An individual must be held accountable when their intentional, reckless, or negligent behavior causes the death of your loved one. A wrongful death attorney understands there is no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one. They also understand your family may suffer devastating financial consequences. Those consequences may include unexpected medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and the loss of companionship.
If you believe a loved one would not have died had the responsible party acted reasonably, consider contacting an attorney. A wrongful death lawyer will evaluate the facts of your case and help determine the best way to move forward. You should hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions when they cause the death of a loved one. Accountability may prevent similar negligent acts in the future.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765