“Wrongful death” is a legal term that refers to a type of civil claim that can be brought by relatives of a person who has died as a result of another person’s negligent, reckless or intentional conduct. The exact terms of legislative intent are spelled out in Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute, codified in F.S. 786.16 – 786.26.
The Fort Lauderdale wrongful death lawyers at The Law Offices of Richard Ansara understand that those who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved one may be reticent to immediately explore legal action. However, because these cases tend to be complex and the Florida statute of limitations on wrongful death actions is just two years, we recommend speaking with an attorney as soon as possible.
In many cases, it is about accountability. Those who have lost someone close to them seek a formal reckoning by the person or company responsible. Beyond that, many families may have incurred substantial medical expenses or funeral costs, and may additionally be struggling with the loss of income once provided by the person who has died. Wrongful death litigation can ensure financial security for those left behind.Elements of a Wrongful Death Case
Most wrongful death claims stem from a legal doctrine called negligence. That means an individual or group of individuals or company failed to behave in a way that a reasonably prudent person would in the same or similar circumstances.
Your personal injury lawyer would need to show:
- A wrongful death occurred;
- Defendant (alleged wrongdoer) had a duty of care to deceased;
- An act or omission by defendant breached that duty of care;
- The wrongful act was the direct cause of injury or death of decedent;
- Damage resulted from that injury or death.
Some common causes of wrongful death actions are:
- Auto accidents
- Birth injuries
- Medical malpractice
- Workplace accidents
- Defective product/ medical device/ medication
While a death may have an awful ripple effect on a family or even an entire community, F.S. 768.20 clarifies who has the right to bring legal action in the form of a wrongful death complaint.
The statute defines “survivors” as:
- Decedent’s spouse
- Decedent’s children (including adopted children, stepchildren and those born out of wedlock)
- Other blood relatives or adoptive siblings who were dependent on decedent for support or services
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are some exceptions. For example, a child born out-of-wedlock can automatically recover damages in a wrongful death case involving the loss of a mother. However, he or she will only be able to recover for loss of a father if the father had formally recognized the child as his own and as obligated to contribute support. Similarly, surviving spouses who were legally separated for years may not be entitled to pursue damages.
The statute allows claims to be brought by decedent’s personal estate representative, who works to recover damages for benefit of survivors. That means there is only one plaintiff, even if there are multiple people who have a rightful claim. If the case is successful, damages are distributed among the survivors, referred to as “distributees.”Types of Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
There are two general types of damages in wrongful death cases:
Compensatory damages are those intended to “make whole” the survivors. Of course, nothing will bring a lost loved one back, but these are calculable damages that consider a number of factors. Punitive damages, meanwhile, are intended to punish a defendant for particularly egregious actions that resulted in the death.
Survivors of decedent may be entitled to recover compensatory damages for:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral costs
- Loss of companionship, instruction and guidance
- Loss of potential future earnings of decedent
- Pain and suffering of decedent before death
- Mental/ emotional pain and suffering of survivors
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate
While damages in a personal injury lawsuit are intended for the purpose of compensating the actual injured party, damages in wrongful death lawsuits are intended to compensate surviving family members of the deceased. Evaluation of damages may consider:
- Survivor’s relationship to decedent
- Among of decedent’s probable net income amount
- Replacement value of decedent’s services to survivor
- Decedent and survivor’s joint life expectancies
- Period of minority where children are involved
If you have questions about your rights following the death of a loved one due to another’s negligent or intentional act, call us today to learn more.