Wrongful death lawsuits are claims that assert a defendant caused someone’s death, either through negligence or intentionally. The law essentially allows the deceased person’s next of kin to file a suit against the party they believe is responsible for their loved one’s death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is separate from any criminal trial or investigation related to the death, and neither has any bearing on the other. Instead, these claims seek monetary compensation for the loss. Obviously, no amount of money can make up for the loss of someone you care about, but the compensation can be for funeral or medical expenses, or to assist the people who depended on the decedent for financial support.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death suits can be difficult and complex for the decedent’s estate. How do they work? Under Florida statutes, a representative of the decedent’s family files the claim. The personal representative is named in the deceased’s will or estate plan. If no representative was specified, then the court will appoint one.
During the filing, the personal representative must list all of the surviving family members who have interest in the wrongful death claim. Florida statutes specify the type of family member who can receive compensation from a wrongful death. The deceased person’s spouse, children, or parents may recover damages. Additionally, this right is also granted to blood relatives or siblings who were wholly or in part dependent on the income of the decedent.
If a child is born from unwed parents, the child can receive compensation from the case in the event of the mother’s death. If the father dies, the child can only receive compensation if the father formally recognized the child as his own and was obligated to contribute support for the child’s upbringing.
Limitations on Compensation for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The state of Florida places limitations on the damages received in a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, children of any age are entitled to compensation for loss of support and services. They can claim support and services both past (from the time of injury until death) and future.
However, if there is a surviving spouse, children over the age of 25 cannot claim monetary compensation for loss of parental guidance, instruction, or companionship—nor can they receive damages for mental pain and suffering. The state of Florida also prevents adult children from filing for this compensation if the death is from medical malpractice.
Limitations are placed on surviving parents as well. Parents cannot recover compensation for pain and suffering if the decedent was over the age of 25 when he or she passed away. Additionally, they cannot file for compensation for pain and suffering if the death was caused by medical malpractice.
Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?
Many different people can be held legally responsible for a wrongful death. Individuals, companies, employees, and government agencies can all potentially be sued in this type of claim. There are, however, some specific parties who are exempt by law from wrongful death claims.
Most of the time, wrongful death suits are based on an accusation of negligence. However, they may also be filed for intentional acts. For example, OJ Simpson was sued for wrongful death regarding the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
In the case of negligence, the parties that may be sued vary widely and depend on the situation in question. For example, if a wrongful death claim was filed against a drunk driver, the estate of the decedent could not only sue the driver in question, but the person who provided the driver with alcohol. They could also sue the car manufacturer if a dangerous part played a role in the accident, or the government agency responsible for the roadway if a lack of signage or roadway hazards contributed to the accident by creating dangerous conditions. In a 2015 case, one Florida woman filed a successful lawsuit against the hotel that owned the parking lot in which her husband died after being struck by a drunk driver.
As some negligent parties may not be apparent following a wrongful death, it is useful to seek legal counsel. An attorney can help illuminate the individuals or groups that may be guilty of negligence in a given situation.
The Complexity of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A wide variety of legislation governs wrongful death suits. These laws are intricate and complex, and would take several pages to explain in detail. Many surviving parties are excluded from filing wrongful death claims, and many responsible parties are protected by law from wrongful death suits.
You should not let that discourage you, however, if you believe you may have a legitimate claim for wrongful death. A skilled attorney can help you navigate a wrongful death claim successfully. To consult with an experienced legal team, contact us today.
About the Author:
John K. Lawlor, a South Florida personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on complex personal injury, wrongful death, and professional malpractice, founded the law firm of Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional associations.