Any accident can rack up thousands of dollars in medical expenses and lost wages, but fatal accidents add on even more burdens. The cost of a funeral. The loss of a parent or spouse’s wages. The time that is needed for grieving.
All of these things are costs related to the death, and they can add up quickly. If your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence, it may be possible for you to go to court and ask for compensation by filing a wrongful death claim.
What Exactly Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
In short, Florida law allows family members to file a wrongful death claim if a person’s death was “caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract.”
That means wrongful death claims apply both to situations where the decedent was intentionally killed as well as to accidents involving negligence or malpractice.
This type of claim is filed in a civil court for the purpose of seeking out monetary compensation for damages.
Florida also has a similar type of claim called a survival action claim. Survival action claims aim to recover damages on behalf of the deceased party, but do not claim that the deceased passed away due to reckless or intentional actions.
Instead, survival action claims merely ask for damages or wages that the deceased could have recovered if he or she were still alive. Learn more about the difference between these two processes here.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida, and What Damages Can You Ask For?
The parents, spouses, or children of the deceased can file a wrongful death suit, although things can get tricky if a child wants to file a claim and his or her parents were not married.
If a blood relative or adoptive sibling is “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support and services,” they may also file a claim.
The damages you are asking for may include:
- The value of support and services the decedent provided
- The value of companionship, guidance, and protection the decedent provided
- The value of mental and emotional pain and suffering from losing a child
- Medical or funeral expenses that have been paid by the surviving family member
- Medical or funeral expenses that have been paid by the decedent’s estate
- The value of wages, benefits, or earnings that the decedent could have expected to make or receive
- The value of lost “prospective net accumulations” of the estate
The last three are damages that would be rewarded to the decedent’s estate.
What Will I Have to Prove In Court?
Proving negligence in a wrongful death claim is very similar to proving negligence in any other personal injury case. The plaintiff carries the burden of proof, and must prove the following in order to win their case:
- The defendant owed the victim a reasonable duty of care.
- The defendant breached his or her duty of care.
- The breach of duty directly caused the victim’s death.
- The death directly caused the damages that the plaintiff wants to recover.
Let’s look at the example of a fatal car accident caused by a drunk driver. The family members of the victim could take the driver to court on a wrongful death claim.
As a driver, the defendant owed the victim a reasonable duty of care – they had the duty of driving safely and following the rules of the road. By getting behind the wheel after a few drinks, the defendant breached his or her duty of care.
The plaintiffs would then have to prove that the defendant’s driving caused the accident, that the accident caused the victim’s death, and that the victim’s death caused the damages that the plaintiff has asked for with their wrongful death claim.
Is An Autopsy Required?
Florida does not require an autopsy to be performed in order to file or win a wrongful death suit.
In some situations, like a bad car accident, an autopsy may not be possible, but proving cause of death and the negligence or recklessness of another may still be possible.
In cases where an autopsy can be performed, it may help to confirm the cause of death and further your case.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Wrongful death claims can be costly and complicated, and the statute of limitations in Florida only gives you four years to file your claim. Hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney can make the entire process go more smoothly because you will have someone on your side who understands how these types of cases work and how best to build your case to win you the compensation that you need and deserve.
For more information about wrongful death claims, and the case you need to build in order to collect appropriate compensation for your loved one’s death, talk to a Florida wrongful death lawyer today.
About the Author:
Jeffrey Braxton is a trial lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who has devoted his career to the practice of personal injury law. As lead trial attorney for The South Florida Injury Law Firm, Jeff has litigated thousands of cases and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of attorneys who have resolved cases in excess of one million dollars.