Getting Money From a Wrongful Death Settlement
There are few things more tragic than the death of a family member due to the negligence of someone else. If you have lost a loved one, you may have questions about why it happened and what you should do. You will almost certainly feel overwhelmed by handling the emotional burden of losing a loved one.
Of course, the financial impact of the accident may not be your initial concern. However, ensuring the responsible party bears the financial burden of the loss is an important step to consider. To secure recovery, you will need to understand Florida’s wrongful death laws, which dictate the procedures surviving family members must follow.
The wrongful death attorneys at Dolman Law Group below discuss more about wrongful death lawsuits and how defendants pay settlements to plaintiffs.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim arises when an individual is killed due to the negligence or intentional act of another party. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to provide compensation to the family and loved ones of the victim. Any accident caused by another’s negligence or intentional acts that result in a fatality may provide the basis of a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim is a civil action for financial recovery. If the defendant’s actions are also considered criminal offenses, the state may decide to separately pursue criminal charges. However, the outcome of any criminal proceeding will not impact family members’ ability to seek monetary compensation in the civil courts.
Common bases for wrongful death claims include fatalities resulting from:
- Car accidents. In one year alone, 36,560 people died in car accidents, causing an economic impact of around $242 billion.
- Medical malpractice. Anywhere from 250,000 to 440,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors.
- Elder abuse. Elders who have been abused have a 300 percent higher risk of death than those who are not mistreated.
- Workplace injuries. More than 5,000 workplace deaths took place in one recent year.
- Slip and fall accidents. Falls are the third leading cause of unintentional, injury-related deaths.
- Product liability. Given the sheer number and variety of consumer products, chances of injury or death are high. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission keeps track of recalled products that pose a risk of injury to users.
No matter the circumstances leading to wrongful death, a key element is that another’s negligent or intentional actions contributed to the victim’s death. While each case is unique, some examples of negligence may include:
- Car accidents. If another driver commits a traffic violation such as speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol, their behavior is evidence of negligence.
- Medical malpractice. If a medical professional deviates from the universally accepted standard of care expected of medical professionals, this deviation may be considered negligent behavior.
- Elder abuse. A caretaker who fails to provide adequate care to an elder, such as providing the wrong dosage of their prescribed medications, a court may find the caretaker was negligent.
- Workplace injury. Employers are required to provide a safe work environment and reasonable safety accommodations for their employees. The failure to do so may be considered negligent action.
- Slip and fall. A business owner who leaves unmarked obstacles or otherwise fails to keep their business premise in a reasonably safe condition may be found to have acted negligently.
- Product liability. Product manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their products are safe for use by the public. If they fail to conduct appropriate testing and release an unsafe product, manufacturers may be responsible for any resulting injuries.
Establishing the negligence of another party is a very fact-intensive process and requires diligent examination of all the circumstances. It is important to ensure the accident scene is thoroughly documented to preserve evidence that may strengthen a wrongful death claim. In some instances, there may be more than one negligent party that contributed to the accident. An experienced attorney can help evaluate the evidence and identify all potentially liable parties.
Who Can Recover for Wrongful Death?
To recover damages through wrongful death, the claimant must have suffered damages as a result of the victim’s death. Legally, the individuals who can recover are referred to as the “real parties in interest.” In Florida, a wrongful death action must be brought by the victim’s personal representative. The personal representative will be named in the victim’s will or other estate planning document. It is the personal representative that is responsible for recovering all damages on behalf of the victim’s family and estate. In addition, they are responsible for distributing any damages after they are received.
What Damages Can Family Members Seek?
Of course, it is impossible to put a value on the life of an individual. However, when another’s negligence causes a death, surviving family members should be able to recover compensation for any resulting losses. The damages available to beneficiaries of a wrongful death lawsuit are listed in Florida’s wrongful death statute. To receive financial compensation, any potential beneficiaries must be named in the wrongful death lawsuit, including their relationship to the victim.
Available damages include:
- Loss of support. Survivors may recover the value of any lost support or services the victim would have provided. Damages may include loss of support from the time of injury until the victim’s death. In addition, damages may include any future loss of support after the victim’s death. When calculating these damages, the jury may consider the claimant’s relationship to the victim.
- Loss of companionship. While it may be difficult to quantify, a surviving spouse and any minor children may recover for loss of companionship and protection. If there is no surviving spouse, adult children may also be able to seek recovery for loss of parental companionship.
- Mental pain and suffering: The death of a spouse or parent is sure to cause emotional pain and suffering for their family. A spouse and minor children may recover damages for the impact caused by mental distress. In the unfortunate scenario of a child victim, the child’s parents may seek recovery for their inevitable mental pain and suffering.
- Medical and funeral expenses. Surviving family members may seek recovery for medical and funeral expenses.
- Loss of earnings. The personal representative can recover for the victim’s lost earnings. Lost earnings may be calculated from the date of injury to death. Future anticipated earnings may also be recovered if the victim is survived by a spouse or other descendants.
The personal representative must also consider any debts the victim may have had. A decedent’s debts will need to be paid out of the victim’s estate. Calculating damages in a wrongful death suit can be extremely complicated. The process may require the input of medical and economic experts to understand the full financial impact of the loss.
Settling a Wrongful Death Claim
There are two potential paths to secure recovery in a wrongful death claim. The first option is to take the case to trial, allowing a judge or jury to decide the amount of damages family members are entitled to. The second is to pursue settlement negotiations with the responsible parties in an attempt to come to an agreeable amount of compensation.
Both options have benefits and drawbacks. If you choose to take your case to court, it is often a long process, and the results are never certain. However, a jury may provide a larger settlement award than the defendant will agree to. Defendants are typically unwilling to settle for the entire requested amount of damages. Settlements do, however, provide much more certainty and are typically more expeditious than taking the case to trial. When appropriate, an attorney can assist family members in determining whether they should consider a settlement or take the case to court.
If you choose to settle your case, the settlement agreement will provide for payment through a lump sum or structured settlement.
The defendant may agree to pay the entire settlement in one lump-sum payment. In this case, the beneficiaries will receive a single payment in the full amount of the agreed-upon damages. Many claimants prefer this option to resolve their wrongful death claim. Many of the damages resulting from a wrongful death require immediate payment, such as medical bills and burial and funeral expenses. A lump-sum payment provides the financial flexibility to take care of these upfront expenses and plan for the future. The family and loved ones may also be accruing additional expenses in dealing with their emotional suffering. A lump-sum payment will allow them to manage these costs as they arise.
The parties may agree to a structured settlement, where the defendant pays the agreed-upon amount of damages incrementally over time. A structured settlement doesn’t provide the family with the financial flexibility of a lump-sum payment. However, it may help manage the long term expenses resulting from the victim’s wrongful death. Once established and agreed to, structured settlements are difficult to modify. Working with an attorney may ensure that you understand the implications of any structured settlement before accepting it.
Many instances may involve the defendant’s insurance policy. For example, if a car accident caused the victim’s death, some or all of the settlement may be covered by the defendant’s automobile insurance policy. If the negligent act took place on the defendant’s property, their property insurance may be involved. Insurance companies are experienced and may try to avoid paying all the damages the surviving family members are entitled to. An attorney can help you understand whether a settlement offer is worth accepting.
Distributing Funds After Settlement
Often in a wrongful death case, there are many parties interested in securing a portion of the settlement. Creditors, a surviving spouse, surviving children, and other family members may feel they have suffered damages that should be compensated. In some cases, the settlement does not provide a sufficient amount of money to satisfy the demands of all the potential creditors and beneficiaries.
The Florida Wrongful Death Act requires that the personal representative determines a fair and reasonable method for apportioning the settlement among survivors and the estate. The court has the authority to disapprove of the method proposed by the personal representative.
A personal representative may also choose to have the court approve the settlement. If any survivor objects to the settlement amount or method of distribution, the court may be required to approve it. If the settlement or apportionment affects a survivor who is a minor or considered incompetent, the court will also be required to issue approval. In addition, seeking court approval will prevent survivors from challenging the terms of the settlement in the future.
Work With an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party or if you are the personal representative for the estate, seek the advice of a wrongful death attorney. When appropriate, an attorney can help families compile evidence of the negligence of another party. Establishing negligent behavior is critical to the strength and success of a wrongful death claim. An experienced personal injury attorney regularly calculates the damages that injured parties are entitled to. When necessary, they may coordinate with experts to ensure all relevant damages are included in an injured party’s demand.
An attorney can also assist injured parties in determining whether to take a case to trial or to accept a settlement offer. In a wrongful death case, the personal representative must determine whether the settlement amount is appropriate and if he or she can fairly distribute it between the interested parties. The assistance of an attorney may help take the stress off the personal representative in making these vital decisions. To contact Dolman Law Group about a free consultation regarding your wrongful death case, either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.