Defining Wrongful Death
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in St. Petersburg on behalf of the mother of an Eckerd College student who died after falling about 40 feet from a ladder onto a concrete floor outside the theater on the college campus. The young woman was attempting to get onto the roof to watch the sunrise on the morning of her graduation. She died five days later at a local hospital, on her twenty-second birthday.
Negligence and Wrongful Death
Her mother claims that the school is liable for the death because it allowed a culture of drinking and drugs, permitting students to party both on- and off-campus, even if they were underage. The lawsuit states that the party atmosphere at the college is well known to the public, citing a fourth-place ranking in The Princeton Review for “Reefer Madness” and third in the “Lots of Beer” category. The Daily Beast named the school “America’s 12th Druggiest College.”
The lawsuit notes that students regularly indulge in drugs and alcohol and then climb up on the rooftops of buildings on campus. There are numerous ways that the school fails to stop drinking and drug use among the students, the lawsuit adds, including approving on-campus parties where alcohol and drugs are known to be present and also hosting parties where alcohol and drug use takes place. It is not known if the young woman had drugs or alcohol in her system at the time of her fall, but she reportedly frequented parties both on and off-campus.
While the allegations are startling, deaths caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongful action happen frequently in Florida and beyond. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s actions or failure to act, you may be eligible for compensation. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death Explained
According to the Florida Wrongful Death Act, wrongful death is caused by a wrongful act, negligence, default, or a breach of contract or warranty that would have entitled the injured person to recover damages on their own behalf if their death had not occurred. Florida’s wrongful death law is designed to shift the costs of an unexpected death from family to the person whose actions caused the death.
While a wrongful death may occur in many ways, some of the more common ones include:
- Motor vehicle accidents resulting from human error or illegal behavior such as drinking and driving. In a recent case, a settlement was reached in the Florida wrongful death case against tennis star Venus Williams. The lawsuit stems from a fatal car accident in which a man driving a Hyundai Accent crashed into Williams’ Toyota Sequoia. The man succumbed to his injuries two weeks after the accident. At the time the crash occurred, police declined to charge either driver and Palm Gardens Police Department investigators later revealed that surveillance video of the accident revealed that Williams lawfully entered the intersection where the accident happened. The lawsuit claimed that Williams was negligent, and attorneys for both the plaintiffs and Williams (the defendant) were allowed to download and inspect the crash data from both vehicles. The lawsuit stated that the man suffered severed arteries, massive internal bleeding, and a fractured spine. Williams, when asked about the accident while competing at Wimbledon months later, began to cry and stated that she was devastated by what happened.
- Medical malpractice, such as hospital errors in treatment, wrong-site surgery, or a birth injury. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Palm Beach County on behalf of the wife of a man whose father and brother are both longtime judges provides a helpful example. The lawsuit alleges that the man, who was being treated for cancer, was receiving high doses of narcotics to relieve throat pain due to the radiation treatment he was undergoing. The failure of the man’s doctor to properly treat and monitor the provision of this medication resulted in the man suffocating to death, the lawsuit states. The man stopped breathing at some point after his family had left his room and he was not monitored for some time. When a nurse checked on him shortly after midnight, he had no pulse. He was resuscitated, but the deprivation of oxygen had caused severe and irreversible brain damage. He was removed from life support the following day.
- Premises liability, such as a slip-and-fall accident, failure to provide security, or other hazardous conditions in a public, commercial, or private setting. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of a 71-year-old South Florida man who was crushed to death at a local warehouse after a stack of metal beams, weighing around 6,000 pounds, fell on him. The man was delivering beams to the warehouse and had stepped out of his truck when the accident occurred. The lawsuit is not only seeking damages for the mental anguish that the family is experiencing, but also punitive damages for gross negligence on the part of the business who owns the warehouse where the accident took place.
- Defective products, such as prescription drugs with dangerous side effects or a malfunctioning car part that causes a vehicle to crash. A wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed against e-cigarette manufacturer Juul following the death of an 18-year-old man who had been using this brand of e-cigarettes for about three years. The young man died due to a lung injury from using the product. The suit was filed on behalf of his mother, who says she is “sentenced to a life of sadness” following her son’s death. As of late 2019, the CDC reported that e-cigarettes have resulted in 26 deaths and nearly 1,300 lung injury cases. The lawsuit states that the company targeted youth with its marketing strategies, creating an epidemic of young users with unprecedented levels of nicotine addiction.
- Nursing home abuse or neglect that results in the death of a resident. The USA Today Network’s Florida Investigative Team revealed that it had uncovered 7,200 violations at Florida nursing homes, resulting in 191 deaths. Many wrongful death lawsuits have been filed and many settlements have been reached. The investigative team noted that it found enough violations to shut down many of the nursing homes, but that the agency that regulates nursing homes in the state has only closed down two of the homes since 2013, and one of those was shut down after 12 people died there due to extreme heat exposure after Hurricane Irma knocked out the power that provided air conditioning to the facility.
- Criminal acts, such as assault, that result in death. Do note that, while a person can be sued for a criminal act resulting in death, that lawsuit is separate from a criminal investigation, charge, or conviction. In one case, a Florida jury awarded nearly $500 million to the family of a woman who was fatally shot during an argument in a car. The lawsuit was filed against the man who shot the 20-year-old woman, as well as two other men who helped dump her body. In the separate criminal case, the man who committed the crime was sentenced 45 years in prison for second-degree murder. The other two men pleaded guilty to accessory charges. The personal injury case will now be turned over to collection attorneys who will attempt to obtain the award for the family.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida?
A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by a personal representative of the deceased who was named in the deceased’s will or, in the absence of a named personal representative in the will, appointed by the court. The personal representative files the lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s family members.
Those who may recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The deceased’s spouse, who may claim loss of support and services, loss of companionship and protection, and mental pain and suffering.
- The deceased’s minor children, who may claim loss of support and services, loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, and mental pain and suffering. In the absence of a surviving spouse, the deceased’s adult children may also claim these damages. If a surviving child was born to unmarried parents, they may benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit in the case of the mother’s death, but in the case of their father’s death, they may benefit only if the father legally claimed the child and provided the child support.
- Parents of deceased minor children may claim mental pain and suffering. If there are no other survivors, the parents of a deceased adult child may claim mental pain and suffering. Note that children under the age of 25 are often regarded as minors in terms of the damages that can be sought in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- If a survivor paid for medical or funeral services for the deceased, they have the right to seek compensation for those expenses.
- The deceased’s estate may claim loss of earnings from the date of the injury to the date of death and loss of prospective net accumulations to the estate.
Highlights of Florida’s Wrongful Death Law
If you lost a loved one and are considering filing a wrongful death claim, here are some highlights from the wrongful death law that may help you understand the process.
- Generally, the time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of the incident that caused the death, or two years from the time the incident was discovered or should have reasonably been discovered. However, claims against governmental entities require a different process in which legal paperwork must be submitted to the government six months before the lawsuit is filed, and the lawsuit must be filed within three years of the death. There are also specific, extenuating circumstances in which a lawsuit may still be filed after the statutory two-year time limit has passed. Your attorney can advise you as to whether your case falls within the circumstances required for a statute of limitations extension.
- The key to a successful outcome in your wrongful death case depends on your ability to prove that someone acted in a negligent, reckless, or intentional manner and that these actions resulted in your loved one’s death and your related financial and emotional damages.
- The personal representative who files the lawsuit on behalf of the family members and/ or the decedent’s estate is generally a family member and may also be a survivor named in the lawsuit. If the deceased person did not appoint a personal representative before their death, the court can appoint a personal representative after providing notice to all interested parties.
- While you are not required to hire an attorney to file a wrongful death lawsuit, seeking an attorney’s help is always best. The laws pertaining to who can file, what damages they can seek, and other intricacies of the wrongful death act in Florida can be complex and confusing. An attorney with experience in wrongful death cases can ensure that the lawsuit is filed correctly and on time, according to the facts of the case and how the law fits the case. An attorney also brings helpful negotiating experience when seeking a settlement of your claim. Additionally, an attorney can properly establish a value to your case based on the economic and emotional impacts that your loved one’s death has caused and will continue to cause.
The unexpected death of a loved one carries with it many questions about how to face the future. Let a wrongful death lawyer help you find answers to at least some of those questions.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765