Taking Timely Action After Wrongful Death
Unexpectedly losing a loved one is always a shocking and devastating event. Most certainly, it will be difficult to wrap your head around what has happened. When your loved one dies as a result of another’s negligence or intentional acts, it can cause even more confusion.
After someone you love loses their life, you will surely be dealing with the emotional toll of the loss. One immediately pressing and incredibly stressful concern is the financial burden of your loved one’s death. You will likely face medical bills and funeral expenses that require immediate attention. You may also be thinking about how you will survive without the income and support that the decedent provided.
A wrongful death action may entitle you to financial compensation for the losses resulting from a loved one’s death. If another’s negligent acts contributed to the decedent’s death, they may be legally liable for the damages you endure. Most states, including Florida, have specific procedures families must follow to pursue a wrongful death claim typically with a wrongful death attorney. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations that defines the amount of time within which you may file a wrongful death claim. If the time period expires, you may not have a legal remedy to recover your losses.
Read on to understand the requirements set by the statute of limitations and other important considerations for pursuing a wrongful death claim in Florida.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death suit operates to compensate surviving family members after their loved one is killed as the result of another party’s negligence or intentional acts. It is overwhelming to think about the potential death of yourself or a loved one. Unfortunately, these types of incidents are common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are nearly 170,000 deaths from unintentional injuries each year.
Wrongful death claims commonly arise due to fatalities from the following incidents:
- Car accidents. More than 32,000 fatalities take place due to motor vehicle crashes each year, and approximately 90 people die each day in vehicle collisions.
- Workplace fatalities. The average number of workplace deaths is between 4,000 and 6,000 people each year.
- Medical malpractice. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have determined that medical errors should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States. The study indicates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors.
- Premise liability accidents. One of the most common accidents on business properties open to the public is a slip and fall accident. For people ages 65 to 84, falls are the second leading cause of injury-related death. And for those 85 and older, falls are the number one cause of injury-related death.
- Pedestrian accidents. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, more than 6,000 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads in 2018. The highest number of pedestrian fatalities in the last 3 decades.
- Elder abuse. Elders who have been abused have a 300 percent higher risk of death than those who are not mistreated.
- Defective products. Death or injury could occur from any number of products, including food, pharmaceuticals, and motor vehicles. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports all products that are recalled because they risk injury to consumers.
To pursue a wrongful death claim, you must establish that another party acted negligently or intentionally. More importantly, you must show that the conduct contributed to the death of the victim. In a car accident, a violation of traffic laws, such as speeding or running a red light, can indicate negligent driver behavior. In a medical malpractice case, the medical professional must have deviated from the accepted standard of care.
For example, physicians may be negligent if they prescribe the wrong medication. If the defendant is a property owner, they have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. At the workplace, employers are required to provide employees a safe work environment and reasonable safety accommodations.
Strong evidence of negligent behavior is critical to building a strong wrongful death claim. Injured family members must document all the facts and evidence, including evidence from the scene of the accident. A wrongful death attorney can assist injured victims in understanding important evidence for their claim.
Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim
If your loved one was the victim of another party’s negligence, you may want to consider bringing a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death claims are often subject to specific state laws that may determine the time period within when a claim may be filed, who may bring a suit, and what damages may be recovered.
Statute of Limitations
Florida law allows surviving family members to bring a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the accident. Generally speaking, the cause of the death does not affect the statute of limitations.
However, there are some exceptions, including:
- Medical malpractice: In some medical malpractice claims, the clock won’t start running on the statute of limitations until the cause of death is discovered. Family members may not be aware that they are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim until the medical error is uncovered.
- Homicides: A homicide is a criminal charge pursued against the defendant by the state. However, the investigation will likely uncover evidence of intent that may be important to a civil wrongful death claim. In the case of a homicide, the statute of limitations may not begin to toll until the individual who is responsible is identified or apprehended.
- Government entity: If the responsible party is a government entity, the statute of limitations is extended to four years. The time limits are extended to account for the lengthy process required to pursue discovery against a government entity.
If you believe the two-year statute of limitations has passed or that an exception may apply to your claim, you should still contact an attorney. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help determine whether your claim is barred due to untimely filing. If your case if not barred, an attorney may help you decide how to proceed.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?
Generally speaking, a party must have suffered damages due to the victim’s death to pursue a wrongful death suit. In Florida, a wrongful death action must be brought by the victim’s personal representative. The personal representative will be identified in the victim’s will or other estate planning documents. The representative is responsible for recovering all damages on behalf of the victim’s family and estate. In addition, they are responsible for distributing the damages award to any named beneficiaries.
What Damages Are Available?
No amount of money can bring a lost loved one back, however, there is an undeniable financial and emotional toll placed on the family of the victim. The Florida Wrongful Death statute specifically details the types of damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death action. The damages available will depend on the nature of the beneficiaries’ relationship to the victim.
Common types of damages claimed include:
- Loss of support: Survivors may recover the value of any lost support or services they would have received from the victim. The damages can cover loss of support from the time of the victim’s injury to the time of their death. In addition, a family member recovery can recover any future loss of support after the victim’s death. When calculating damages, a jury will consider the claimant’s relationship to the victim and the extent to which they provided support before their death.
- Loss of companionship: It may be difficult to place a concrete value on the relationship a beneficiary had with the victim. However, 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 the family. A surviving spouse or any minor children may recover damages for mental distress resulting from the loss of their loved one. In the tragic circumstance where the victim is a minor, the child’s parents may seek recovery for their mental pain and suffering.
- Medical and funeral expenses: When a family member pays for medical and funeral expenses may seek compensation for those costs.
- Loss of earnings: A personal representative can recover for the victim’s lost earnings. Lost earnings include any income from the date of injury to death. In addition, you may claim future anticipated earnings if the victim is survived by a spouse or other descendants.
Calculating damages in a wrongful death suit can be extremely complicated and may require the input of medical and economic experts. The personal representative must also consider any debts the victim may have left behind. Decedent’s debts must be paid out of their estate, which may reduce the amount of compensation available to beneficiaries.
Distribution of Damages
You may decide to take your wrongful death case to court, or you may decide to settle with the defendant before your court date. Deciding whether to settle can involve complicated feelings and practical considerations. While taking your case to court may take more time, you may receive a larger payout of damages. However, there the jury may decide against you and you will receive nothing. Settlements provide more certainty and are more expeditious than taking a case to trial.
On the other hand, settlement negotiations may lead you to accept a reduced amount of damages. An attorney can assist in determining whether you should consider a settlement or if it may be more advantageous to take your case to court. Whether you choose to settle your case or take it to court, any damages received must be distributed between the various interested parties.
The many interested parties in a wrongful death case include creditors, a surviving spouse, surviving children, and other family members. In some cases, the award of damages will not satisfy the demands of all of the interested parties.
Florida Wrongful Death
In Florida, the Wrongful Death Act requires that the personal representative of the estate determine a fair and reasonable method for apportioning the settlement between the survivors and the estate. If any survivor objects to the amount or distribution method, the court is required to approve the proposed plan. If the settlement or apportionment affects a survivor who is a minor or considered incompetent, the court will also be required to issue approval.
Even if the court is not required to approve the settlement, the personal representative may still seek the court’s approval. Securing approval from the court will ensure that a survivor or other interested party cannot challenge the distribution of the damages.
Work With an Experienced Florida Wrongful Death Attorney
If you lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party, undoubtedly, you will bear the burden of processing the death of the victim. As a personal representative, you must also ensure that the victim’s beneficiaries are appropriately compensated for their losses.
If you feel overwhelmed by this responsibility, you may want to discuss your case with an experienced attorney. An attorney may be able to help you compile evidence of negligence, calculate damages, coordinate experts, and determine whether to take the case to trial or accept a settlement offer. The assistance of an attorney can help take the stress off the personal representative responsible for these vital decisions. If you are a beneficiary, an attorney can help you ensure that your voice is heard throughout the process.