According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidental injuries are the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. But if you recently lost a loved one, you know it's more than a statistic who died—it's a person.
You are most likely overwhelmed with the pain and grief accompanying such a loss. The trauma of losing a loved one might cause trouble sleeping, panic attacks, uncontrollable crying, and a wide array of other physical, emotional, and psychological responses. Learning that your loss might have been avoided if not for another party's intentional harm or negligence adds an extra layer to this grief.
Nothing can bring back your family member, but those who are liable must be held accountable. If your loved one died as a result of another party's actions, you might be entitled to file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation for the losses you and your family have sustained.
When does a Death Become a Wrongful Death?
Unfortunately, we lose loved ones far too often and sometimes far too soon, but not all deaths are considered wrongful deaths. Under Florida Statutes § 768.19, a wrongful death occurs when someone's “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of a contract or warranty” causes the death of another.
Your family member may have lost their life due to a wide variety of situations. Here are some of the common scenarios that lead to wrongful death claims:
Occupational-related injuries cause numerous fatalities each year throughout the nation. Accidents might be a result of faulty machinery, hazardous working conditions, or a co-worker's negligence. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Florida suffered 309 workplace fatalities in 2016. Of these fatalities:
- Approximately one-third were transportation-related.
- 64 were caused by slips, trips, and falls.
- 50 resulted from exposure to harmful substances or hazardous environments.
- The remaining involved violence by people and animals, explosions and fires, and contact with dangerous equipment.
Under such circumstances, employers, property owners, contractors, and various other parties might be named in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Whether traveling in a car, truck, or commercial motor vehicle, those involved in severe accidents face a risk of dying. Data compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) indicates that 19,116 crashes resulting in injury occurred in Miami-Dade County in 2021, with 330 resulting in fatalities.
Motor vehicle accidents have many causes, but when drivers make poor choices—such as drinking and driving, driving under the influence of drugs, or driving while distracted—they are far more likely to cause a fatal collision.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slip and fall injuries are not fatal for everyone who has an accident. According to a ten-year study conducted by the Florida Department of Health, Florida residents over age 65 account for 88 percent of all slip and fall fatalities. Slip and fall injuries include broken bones, dislocated hips, and a variety of other injuries that heal at different speeds for different individuals. Death from slip and fall injuries may occur due to a traumatic brain injury sustained in a fall.
Property owners who don't maintain their floors or stairways put others at risk for a severe fall. Additionally, wet and dry spills of water, grease, food, granules, and more might result in a customer or client slipping. Property owners have a duty of care to clean up spills as soon as possible and warn visitors of hazardous conditions. When property owners breach that duty and someone dies, they might be liable in a wrongful death claim.
Medical malpractice that leads to death might be one of the most complex and difficult types of wrongful death claims. Society depends on medical professionals for healing and treating illness and disease. When a medical professional causes harm, regardless of whether it was intentional, it can prove traumatic on multiple levels.
Medical malpractice scenarios that might lead to a wrongful death suit include when physicians fail to diagnose an illness or disease, misdiagnose an illness or disease, fail to provide adequate aftercare, make surgical errors, and more. Pharmacists and physicians might also make prescription errors that result in death. In many cases, hospitals share the liability with medical professionals.
What Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
When someone else's negligence or misconduct causes the death of your loved one, they may be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. This might include the state pursuing criminal charges against them.
Criminal charges will be brought forward by the state's prosecutor seeking legal penalties such as jail or prison time, fines, community service, drug treatment, and other consequences. For the defendant to be convicted, the jury must find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Wrongful death lawsuits are different. They involve filing a civil lawsuit against the person or party responsible for causing your loved one's death. Instead of seeking criminal penalties, you will be seeking total compensation for your family members' suffering and your damages.
To win your case, the jury will need to find the defendant liable based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means the evidence your attorney presents must clearly show that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for causing the decedent's passing.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit in Florida?
As long as the deceased would have been able to recover damages had they survived the accident, surviving family members are entitled to recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. A personal representative of the decedent must file this legal action within two years from the date of the accident, according to Florida's statute of limitations. Florida statutes concerning wrongful death clearly outline who might be able to file a wrongful death claim:
- A surviving spouse
- Minor children of the decedent, including adopted children or a blood relative who depended on the decedent
- Adult children of the decedent if there is no spouse
- Parents of minor children
- Parents of adult children, if there are no other survivors
Florida law places the following caveat on child survivors born to unmarried parents: the child may only recover damages when the mother dies; recovering damages for a father's death requires documentation of paternal acknowledgment and a child support order that was issued before death.
What Damages Might Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Suit?
The amount of compensation you might receive from a wrongful death suit in Florida varies based on the surviving dependents' financial need, the decedent's anticipated lifespan, and the extent to which the decedent might have contributed to their death. Under Florida law, the following damages may be recovered if the court determines the liable parties were responsible for your loved one's death:
- Loss of support and service from your loved one. The court calculates this amount based on the survivor's relationship with the decedent, net income available for distribution, and replacement value of services provided. The court calculates future losses based on the joint life expectancies of the survivor and the deceased, and when minor children are survivors, the court may also look at the length of time until the child becomes an adult.
- Loss of companionship and protection for a surviving spouse
- Mental pain and suffering for a surviving spouse, minor children if there is no spouse, parents who survive a minor child, and parents of an adult child without other survivors
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance for minors when there is no surviving spouse
- Medical expenses, including hospitalization, ambulance services, doctors' visits, surgeries, etc. for any survivor who paid them
- Burial and funeral expenses for any survivor who paid them
In some situations, the court might award compensation to the deceased's estate for damages such as:
- Lost wages from the date of injury to the date of death
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate when there is a surviving spouse or blood relative
- Medical expenses
- Burial and funeral expenses
What Tactics Might the Defense Employ in a Wrongful Death Suit?
When you file a wrongful death claim for the loss of a loved one, you can expect that individuals who might be liable and their insurance carriers will do what they can to avoid paying claims or damages. In Florida, the defense typically homes in on two strategies in wrongful death lawsuits: (1) attacking the facts of the case and (2) shifting the blame to the deceased.
When personal injury lawyers attempt to negotiate settlements or prepare for trial, they generally must prove the following:
- Duty of care: The defendant must have owed a duty of care to the deceased. For example, drivers have a duty of care to those with which they share the road to drive carefully, doctors have a duty of care to not harm their patients, and property owners have a duty of care to maintain a safe environment for visitors.
- Breach of duty: The defendant must have breached the aforementioned duty of care. For example, a driver who speeds, runs a red light, or texts and drives has likely breached their duty. Similarly, doctors who prescribe the wrong medication and property owners who don't clear snow and ice have breached their duty to patients and visitors, respectively.
- Cause: The breach of duty must be the direct cause of the injury that led to death.
The defense may argue that the defendant did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care or that the defendant did not breach any duty, but in most cases, the defense focuses on the element of causation. Attacking causation is also a way to shift blame to the victim.
Comparative Negligence in Florida
Although Florida's Wrongful Death Act gives survivors the right to sue, Florida is a pure comparative negligence state (Florida Statutes § 768.81). This means if the court determines both the defendant and plaintiff were negligent, it assigns a percentage of fault to each party. If the defense proves that the decedent at least partially contributed to the accident that led to their death, the court will reduce the amount of the damages awarded accordingly.
For example, if the court determines the victim suffered $2 million in damages, but it also determines the victim was 25 percent at fault for the accident, the court will reduce the damages awarded to $1.5 million.
The doctrine of comparative negligence provides motivation for the defense to shift blame to the decedent or any other party. Defendants may attempt to accomplish this many ways, depending on the circumstances that led to death. Here are some common examples:
- The defense might claim the decedent was driving under the influence of controlled substances, driving while fatigued, or violating other traffic regulations that contributed to a motor vehicle accident.
- When a workplace injury leads to death, the defense might claim that the deceased was doing their job incorrectly, using equipment improperly, or not following proper safety protocol.
- If the decedent died as a result of a slip and fall injury, the responsible property owner might argue that the hazard was obvious to the victim, and they chose not to avoid it.
What to Expect From the Insurance Company
In many wrongful death cases, you will file a claim with the liable party's insurance company. No matter what type of accident or incident caused your loved one's death, the liable party will often have an insurance policy in place protecting them, such as homeowners insurance, medical malpractice insurance, or auto insurance, to name a few.
Unfortunately, insurance companies are not known for cooperating with families of wrongful death victims. Insurance companies prioritize their own needs above those of claimants. It is more common than you might think for the insurance company to comb through claims looking for opportunities to deny your family the benefits you deserve.
Instead of giving the insurance company a statement or working with them to establish liability, direct them to your Aventura wrongful death attorney, who can show them how seriously you are taking your case. At Dolman Law Group, we will never encourage you to settle for less than you are entitled to.
How Long Do You Have to File an Aventura Wrongful Death Claim?
One of the biggest challenges you may encounter when attempting to file your wrongful death claim in Aventura is the statute of limitations. Under Florida Statutes § 95.11 (4)(d), when you are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, you will only have two years from the date of the decedent's passing to file your lawsuit.
If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you will no longer be able to recover compensation for your damages. The Aventura civil court system will have no choice but to dismiss your case.
You can take steps to avoid the statute of limitations adversely impacting your ability to get justice for your loved ones by retaining a wrongful death attorney to advocate for your family's right to compensation.
Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Aventura
Wrongful death claims are highly complex cases that require the finesse of a personal injury attorney. Not only will a lawyer investigate your case, reach out to potential eyewitnesses and experts, and handle all of the procedural details, but they will also be ready to fight against counterclaims and other attacks mounted by the defense. The death of a loved one is a devastating loss on multiple levels; let a lawyer advocate for you and your family and help you seek compensation for the full cost of your loss.
Like most personal injury law firms, we offer a free consultation to prospective clients. When you call us, we will evaluate the details of your case. We generally handle wrongful death cases on a contingency-fee basis, which means we only collect attorney's fees if we successfully recover compensation in your case.
If you have lost a loved one due to another person's intentional harm or negligence, call Dolman Law Group at (954) 302-7068 or contact us online for a free consultation and to determine the best way forward given your individual circumstances. Our legal team understands how difficult experiencing a wrongful death can be. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result, we will work diligently to attain the best possible outcome for your case.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS
20803 Biscayne Boulevard Suite 101,
Aventura, FL 33180
What Our Clients Have to Say:
“So happy I chose Dolman Law Group!!! My experience with the law firm right from the start was fast, friendly and understanding. I started treatment for my injury right away, and while I was focusing on getting better the firm was fighting for me. Incredibly happy with the outcome, thank you to Brent and the team for all the hard work and updates.”
Rating: 5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Read more reviews on Google!