Miami Wrongful Death Lawyer
If a person or entity harms another, the resulting lawsuit falls under the purview of personal injury law. If the victim dies, however, the case becomes a wrongful death suit. Wrongful death law applies when a defendant (the person being sued) unintentionally causes the death of another person. The plaintiff, or party suing, in such cases is a relative or appointed advocate of the decedent.
The law dictating who may file a wrongful death claim, the window of time after a wrongful death to file a claim, the type of claimable damages, and how much can be claimed or recovered varies from state to state. If your loved one was the victim of a wrongful death, please read the following and consider your situation.
Florida Wrongful Death Law
Wrongful death suits can only be initiated by people with specific relations to the decedent. In the state of Florida, a surviving spouse, child, parent, adoptive sibling, or any other blood relative who can demonstrate full or partial dependence upon the deceased may file a wrongful death claim. Surviving loved ones must also consider the statute of limitations or the time frame in which to file a lawsuit. In Florida, that window is four years from the date of death.
Wrongful death suits are civil actions. In some situations, criminal cases arise from the event in question—but these cases address different aspects of the case than the wrongful death lawsuit.
Compensation From Wrongful Death Claims
Survivors filing a wrongful death claim can pursue several types of damages, not unlike a personal injury lawsuit. The damages may include:
- Medical expenses directly related to the decedent’s final illness or injury
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Pain and suffering experienced by the decedent between the time of the final injury or illness and the time of death
- Loss of guidance, companionship, love, and attention from the deceased
- The financial support provided by the decedent
- Reasonably estimated future earning potential of the deceased
- Lost wages from time spent out of work between the time of the final injury or illness and the time of death
- Estimated earnings the decedent’s estate could have reasonably collected
Types of Compensation the Florida Wrongful Death Act May Offer
Whenever someone dies a preventable death, surviving family members and the decedent’s estate may file a claim under the Florida Wrongful Death Act. A wrongful death claim is designed to compensate survivors for their future losses. These claims also often provide a sense of closure and necessary financial assistance for the victim’s survivors after a tragic loss.
Types of Survivors in Wrongful Death Claims
Only certain individuals may secure compensation after a loved one’s death. After the courts establish negligence or malicious intent, the deceased individual’s surviving spouse, children, parents, and other dependent relatives may collect damages. In Florida, the deceased individual’s estate also may collect damages to cover certain costs. To receive compensation, each family member must establish his or her relation to the deceased individual in the initial complaint.
Damages Available Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act
If the jury rules in favor of the claimant, it also will determine the terms of compensation for both the surviving family members and the estate. For surviving family members, damages available under Florida Statute 768.21 include:
- The loss of support and services. Survivors may recover all the financial value of losses from the time of death (with interest) and into the future. Support and services include the contributions of the deceased individual in daily life. For example, if a father maintained the home, survivors may recover the cost of hiring someone to take on the role.
- The loss of companionship, protection, and mental suffering. Courts will only award this type of compensation to a surviving spouse in a retrospective manner beginning at the deceased individual’s injury date.
- The loss of parental companionship, guidance, and pain and suffering. Only minor children can collect this type of compensation because it’s designed to cover the loss of a parent. The jury will award compensation going back to the date of injury, not necessarily the date of death. Adult children (children over age 25) cannot claim parental losses if one parent survives.
- The pain and suffering for the loss of a child. Those who experience the loss of a child often describe the situation as unbearably difficult. Juries will consider the facts of the case to determine damages in these instances.
- Previously paid medical and funeral expenses. If a family member already paid for these services, he or she may recover damages to account for the loss.
Under the same section, the estate also may recover compensation for:
- The loss of earnings and benefits an individual experienced from the time of injury to the time of death.
- The lost possible estate accumulations the individual might have reasonably attained during life.
- Any medical and funeral expenses the estate already paid.
While accountants can clearly determine the value of some losses, others qualify as intangible damages. Deciding the value of a parent’s guidance or the pain and suffering a parent endures after the loss of the child requires subjective reasoning. In many cases, a jury will determine the final dollar amount offered as compensation. A wrongful death attorney can support surviving family members as an advocate for all associated losses. A jury can only award damages based on the information provided during the claim, and an attorney will ensure each piece of relevant evidence comes to light.
Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
In addition to the physical losses survivors endure, the court may provide an additional type of compensation known as punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish the defendant. The jury may award compensation as much as $500,000, or three times the total compensatory award, whichever is greater.
After the court makes its final judgments, the plaintiff can legally collect the damages awarded. If a defendant refuses to pay, the state may refer the plaintiff to collection actions to secure as much of the awarded damages as possible. Damages vary from case to case.
As part of the grieving process, filing a wrongful death claim can provide closure, justice, and financial assistance for the months and years ahead.
Winning Your Case
Winning a wrongful death lawsuit largely depends on your attorney’s ability to prove the defendant’s negligence caused the death in question. To prove negligence, three things must be established:
- The defendant had a duty to the decedent to act with reasonable care. For example, motorists must operate their vehicles with care.
- The defendant violated or breached this duty by some action, or in some cases, inaction. Following the previous example, if a motorist operates his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol and strikes and kills your loved one, the motorist breached his or her duty to act with reasonable care.
- This breach directly resulted in the death in question.
Totaling the damages in a wrongful death lawsuit may also require the testimony of expert witnesses. Such witnesses may include medical professionals who can attest to the severity of the decedent’s final illness or injury and pain and suffering. Witnesses may also include financial experts who can establish the decedent’s potential lifetime earnings through work and other sources of income.
Wrongful death lawsuits can quickly grow in complexity, and it’s important to retain the services of an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure that you don’t overlook possible avenues of compensation. At STEINLAW, our primary goal is to maximize our client’s recovery. We know that it’s impossible to assign a dollar value to a human life, but we also recognize that compensation can make a difficult situation much easier to manage. Reach out to our team for a free consultation in Miami or surrounding areas today.