According to an article published by the Insurance Information Institute, distracted driving is a major cause of fatal car accidents, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. In 2016 alone, 3,450 people died in distraction-affected crashes. If you’ve lost a loved one due to a distracted driver, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed by grief as well as with all of the things that need to be done in the aftermath. While it is impossible to bring your loved one back, filing a wrongful death claim can provide you with the compensation that you need to reduce your financial stress during these trying times.
What Is Distracted Driving?
Distracted driving is when a driver operates a motor vehicle while his or her focus is turned to something else. There are three types of distractions that one may encounter when driving:
- Visual distractions: Activities or events that draw a driver’s eyes away from the roadway. Some examples of visual distractions include previous accidents on the side of the road, checking a child’s seat belt while driving, and electronic devices, such as a GPS or an in-vehicle entertainment system.
- Manual distractions: Activities or events that draw a driver’s hands away from the steering wheel. Some examples of manual distractions include eating or drinking in the car and inputting information into a GPS device.
- Cognitive distractions: Activities or events that draw the driver’s mind away from the task of driving. Examples of cognitive driving distractions are talking to or arguing with passengers, thinking about work, and daydreaming.
Some situations involve more than one type of distraction. Cell phone usage—which includes talking, texting, sending an email, or browsing the internet—causes all three types of driving distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive. Statistics show that 14 percent of all fatal crashes involve cell phone use, with 4,637 people dying from these types of crashes in 2018 alone. Crashes involving cell phone use cost society an average of $129 billion annually, roughly 15 percent of the overall societal damage created by motor vehicle crashes.
Texting while driving increases a driver’s risk of crashing six times more than the driver’s risk when drinking and driving. Using a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether it’s hands-free, delays a driver’s reaction time as much as driving with a legal blood alcohol limit of .08 percent. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. If traveling at 55 miles per hour, that is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Besides cell phone use, common driving distractions include:
- Eating or drinking
- Other passengers in the car, including pets
- Adjusting the controls for vehicle systems, such as the air conditioning or stereo
- Listening to music
- External distractions, such as accidents on the roadway, construction projects, and even people or activities outside of the car
- Personal grooming activities, such as applying makeup or brushing one’s hair
What Is a Wrongful Death Suit?
According to Florida law, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action filed on behalf of an individual’s family members if he or she is killed due to a wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract by another person to the extent that the deceased person would have been entitled to compensation for damages had he or she survived.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?
The difference between wrongful death and murder depends on intent. Murders are caused by intentional acts, while wrongful deaths are caused by careless or negligent behavior. To prove negligence in a wrongful death case, a plaintiff must demonstrate that:
- The defendant owed the deceased a duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty of care.
- The breach caused the death of the plaintiff’s family member.
- The death resulted in actual damages.
Recently in Liberty County, Florida, the family of a local baseball coach and his wife filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Florida Public Utilities Company. According to an article from WTVY, the suit alleges that the coach was electrocuted while installing a new scoreboard due to improperly installed live wires, with the neutral line on top and the hot wire on the bottom. The improperly installed wires also killed the coach’s wife while she was attempting to assist her husband. The couple’s son suffered burns in the incident, but survived.
Some other kinds of situations that may lead to a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Motor vehicle accidents. The mother of a man who died in a 2017 car accident filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Weather Channel, seeking $125 million in damages, according to a USA Today report. The man worked as a storm chaser for the National Weather Service, and he was traveling through Texas when two storm chasers from the Weather Channel ran a stop sign and slammed into his car while traveling at nearly 70 miles per hour. All three men died in the crash. The suit alleges that the two men from the Weather Channel had a history violating traffic laws while attempting to gather footage for their weather show.
- Medical malpractice. As reported by MLive, the mother of a 14-month-old girl who died after a visit to a federally qualified health center filed a wrongful death and medical malpractice suit against that health center. The child died in 2016 after her mother took her to the health center with croup. The health center allegedly sent the child home with a prescription, rather than treating the croup while she was at the facility or sending her to a hospital that would have been able to provide her with adequate care. The child stopped breathing at home several hours later and died in the hospital five days later due to hypoxic brain damage. The family recently settled a federal lawsuit for $750,000. However, they filed an additional lawsuit in state court because, according to the mother, the federal suit only held those who treated the child responsible for her death and not the management of the health center.
- Workplace accidents. According to a report from Local10, the wife of a 69-year-old tow truck driver who fell to his death in Boca Raton while trying to upright an overturned tractor-trailer filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the tractor-trailer company. The tow truck driver accidentally stepped off a ledge and fell about 20 feet onto I-95; he died as a result of his injuries. The lawsuit alleges that the driver of the tractor-trailer had negligently operated his truck, causing it to overturn and dangle perilously off of the overpass.
- Defective or mislabeled products. As reported by Courtroom View Network, a jury in Fort Lauderdale awarded the family of a woman who died of cancer in 1994 $10 million in a wrongful death case against big players in the cigarette industry, R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris. The judgment included punitive damages of $4 million against R.J. Reynolds and $2 million against Phillip Morris. The suit alleged that the woman began smoking as a teenager and smoked three packs a day until shortly before her death. The woman’s daughter stated that the cigarette industry hid the hazards of smoking. The case was one of thousands that stemmed from the 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that decertified a class action lawsuit filed in 1994 against the cigarette makers. The ruling allowed plaintiffs to file their cases individually.
Deaths caused by intentional acts or crimes may also spark wrongful death lawsuits, which are civil proceedings and separate from any criminal proceedings related to the matter. According to a March 2019 article from the Panama City News Herald, family members of a man who a Florida police officer shot in 2015 had an open wrongful death case against the officer when a criminal court convicted him of armed manslaughter and attempted murder for shooting the 31-year-old stranded motorist. The former Palm Beach Gardens officer claimed that he shot the man in self-defense after the man pulled a gun on him. However, discrepancies in his videotaped statement, along with recordings from the man’s roadside assistance call, indicated that the officer was lying. Lawyers in the wrongful death case agreed to stall the civil action until the termination of the criminal proceedings.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by a representative of the decedent’s family, either named in the will or appointed by the court. Such family members may include:
- The decedent’s spouse, children, and parents
- Any blood relative or adoptive sibling who is solely or partially dependent on the decedent for support or services
A child born to unmarried parents is eligible for damages if his or her mother dies, but can only recover damages in the death of his or her father if the father had formally recognized the child as his own and contributed to the support of the child.
The statute of limitations to seek compensation for damages via a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of the decedent’s death.
Who Can Be Named in a Wrongful Death Suit?
Qualifying individuals can file wrongful death lawsuits against any party whose negligence or recklessness caused an accident that led to their family member’s death. In addition to other motorists in wrongful death car accident cases, those who may be sued through a wrongful death claim include:
- The manufacturers or distributors of defective or mislabeled products.
- The employer whose employee is involved in a workplace accident or caused an accident resulting in the death of a person.
- A doctor, a healthcare staff member, or the management of a healthcare facility in a wrongful death medical malpractice case.
- A government agency whose negligence led to a death.
- Those whose criminal actions caused a death.
What Damages May Be Recovered?
Family members are eligible to recover damages for the following expenses through a wrongful death claim:
- The value of the support and services that the decedent provided to the family member.
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings from the decedent, including lost wages that he or she would have been expected to earn in the future had he or she survived.
- The loss of companionship, guidance, and protection previously provided by the deceased person.
- Mental and emotional pain due to the loss of a child.
- Any medical or funeral expenses that the family member paid on behalf of the deceased person.
While Florida law caps non-economic damages at $1 million in personal injury and wrongful death cases, the Florida Supreme Court found in 2017 that this cap was unconstitutional. As of March 2019, a panel from the state’s House of Representatives was considering a bill that would reinstate the caps on non-economic damages. The sponsor of the bill stated that the court’s determination went against legislative intent.
How We Can Help Your Wrongful Death Claim
The loss of a loved one is emotionally devastating. Unfortunately, for many family members who rely on their loved ones for support, services, and guidance, the loss can also cause financial devastation. Regardless of the circumstances of the accident or wrongdoing that caused your loved one’s death, compensation will likely help you overcome any financial struggles caused by the death. The skilled wrongful death attorneys at Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers can help you to understand your legal options, pursue compensation, and hold those who caused your loved one’s death responsible.
With offices in Aventura, Boca Raton, Dora, and Fort Lauderdale, call Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers today at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online, to schedule your free consultation and case review. Our wrongful death attorneys have the experience needed to guide you through the legal process and answer any questions that you have along the way. Let us worry about the details of your case while you focus on recovering from your loss.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765