Nothing could be more tragic than the sudden loss of a loved one because of someone else’s negligence. With help from the right Miami wrongful death attorney, the survivors may bring a wrongful death action to help them deal with unexpected expenses and avoid financial hardship.
What constitutes a wrongful death? Exactly who has standing to bring a wrongful death action in the State of Florida? How does the process work, and what does it take for a wrongful death claim to prevail? You’re about to learn the answers that every family in this state should know.
Wrongful deaths happen every day. For example, over 10,000 of us die in the U.S. each year in an alcohol-or-drug related traffic collision. Medical malpractice is the number three cause of death. Scores of dangerous and sometimes deadly consumer items are recalled every month.
Your pharmacist could sell you the wrong prescription by accident. You could even die from a dog bite – between two and three dozen dog bite deaths are reported every year in the U.S.
HOW DOES FLORIDA LAW DEFINE WRONGFUL DEATH?
Each of the deaths that happen in these scenarios are wrongful deaths. The law in Florida defines wrongful death as a death “caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person.”
No matter how a wrongful death occurs, the law in Florida allows a wrongful death victim’s estate to bring a wrongful death claim against the party allegedly responsible for the death.
Many states let any immediate, surviving family member bring a claim for wrongful death, but in Florida, a claim for wrongful death may be initiated only by the personal representative of the wrongful death victim’s estate.
WHO MAY BE AN ESTATE’S PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE?
If the decedent named a personal representative in his or her will, that person can be the plaintiff who brings a wrongful death claim. If no personal representative was designated by the decedent, a personal representative will be named by the court.
Either way, the personal representative will almost always be the decedent’s spouse, adult child, or parent. That representative, when filing a wrongful death claim, must also list any other immediate family members – spouse, children, or parents – who have an interest in the case.
Other family members – if they relied on the wrongful death victim for financial support – may also be named in a claim for wrongful death.
WHAT DAMAGES MAY SURVIVORS EXPECT TO RECEIVE?
After some wrongful deaths, a prosecutor may file homicide charges, but a criminal prosecution is entirely separate from a wrongful death action in Florida’s civil courts. In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff seeks monetary damages rather than criminal penalties.
The damages that a wrongful death victim’s survivors may obtain with a wrongful death claim may include compensation for:
1. Loss of support, services, guidance, and companionship
2. Personal pain and suffering due to the loss
3. Medical and funeral expenses
4. Loss of wages, benefits, and future earnings capacity
5. Loss of consortium
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO PREVAIL WITH A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
A wrongful death claim in Florida is usually settled privately, outside of the courtroom. Lawyers for each side are usually able to hammer out an agreement that is acceptable to both the negligent party (the defendant) and to the plaintiff (the personal representative bringing the claim).
Wrongful death claims are legally comparable to personal injury cases. In the rare circumstance where a wrongful death case goes to court, a plaintiff must prove the same “elements of the case” that personal injury victims and their attorneys must prove when they bring injury claims:
1. The defendant owed a “duty of care” to the decedent
2. The duty of care was breached by the defendant
3. The breach directly caused the decedent’s wrongful death
For instance, in Florida wrongful death cases arising from traffic collisions, a plaintiff must prove that:
1. The defendant was obliged to drive safely and follow the traffic laws
2. The duty of care was breached by the defendant’s negligent driving
3. The breach of the duty of care directly caused the decedent’s wrongful death
The standard of proof in a civil wrongful death case is lower than the burden of proof in a criminal trial. A plaintiff only has to prove that the decedent “more likely than not” died directly because of the defendant’s negligence.
IS THERE A TIME LIMIT FOR WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS IN FLORIDA?
Even discussing a legal action can be difficult after losing a loved one. Still, it’s wise for survivors to act as quickly as possible. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Florida is almost always two years from the date of the death.
However, your family should not wait two years to meet with a good wrongful death lawyer. Evidence deteriorates quickly, and so do the memories of witnesses, so it is critical to have a Miami wrongful death attorney evaluate the case and begin an investigation at once.
CAN YOUR FAMILY AFFORD A WRONGFUL DEATH ATTORNEY’S HELP?
If you lose a loved one because someone else was negligent, even if you’re not at all prepared to deal with the legal and emotional issues, the right wrongful death lawyer can be sensitive to your family’s emotions and needs while taking aggressive legal action on their behalf.
The attorneys who represent wrongful death survivors work on a contingent fee basis. This means that your lawyer is paid only when and if your claim prevails. The contingent fee system lets every family – the modest as well as the affluent – seek justice and have their day in court.
Your attorney’s percentage and any additional costs should be spelled out clearly in writing when the attorney agrees to act on your family’s behalf.
PUTTING YOUR FAMILY FIRST
In these uncertain times, we are more aware than ever before that dangers can lurk almost anywhere. If you lose someone you love because another person was negligent, you must think of your family and their future.
Clearly, no sum of money can compensate for the loss of a beloved family member. Still, a settlement or verdict in a wrongful death case has helped scores of Florida families move forward positively, constructively, and without financial hardship after a tragic wrongful death.