Individual with their hand on a coffin

Wrongful Death (What South Florida Families Need to Know)

In the State of Florida, when someone’s negligence causes someone else’s accidental and abrupt death, surviving members of the decedent’s family may bring a wrongful death action to seek damages, but they’ll need some legal help from a good Miami wrongful death attorney.

Hazards are everywhere. If a landlord fails to replace a smoke detector or an outdoor light, if a driver is intoxicated or texting, or if a doctor misdiagnoses heart disease or cancer, wrongful death may be imminent.

How Common Is Wrongful Death?

Each year, thousands of defective consumer items are recalled. The number three cause of death in the United States is medical malpractice. In Florida, for instance, medical malpractice alone is the cause of more than 10,000 deaths every year.

And over 10,000 persons in the U.S. lose their lives each year as a result of alcohol-related vehicle collisions. Almost all of these fatalities are what the law in Florida considers “wrongful” deaths.

The loss of a loved one causes profound anguish in any family. Many of us don’t know where to turn at such a difficult time – or how to acquire the resources to move ahead with our lives.

Why Should a Family File a Claim for Wrongful Death?

Filing a claim for wrongful death cannot assuage the grief your family will feel if you suddenly and accidentally lose a loved one. However, a wrongful death claim can help survivors pay their unexpected expenses and avoid sudden financial hardship.

Who, exactly, may bring a claim for wrongful death in this state? What kind of compensation should they hope to receive? What is the deadline for filing a claim for wrongful death? If you’ll continue reading, you will learn the important answers that Florida families need to know.

Florida law specifies that when someone’s death is caused by a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract,” the decedent’s estate may bring a claim for damages arising from the death.

What Is the Process for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?

Many states let any dependent or immediate relative file a claim for wrongful death, but here in Florida, a wrongful death action must be initiated by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.

A person’s estate includes everything the person owns. Your estate is passed on to those who are named in your will. In the absence of a will, your estate goes to your spouse and/or children, or to other relatives if you have no spouse or children. If you have no relatives, it goes to the state.

If no representative was designated by the decedent in his or her will or in another document, a Florida court will name a personal representative. Whether he or she is named by a judge or by the decedent, a personal representative will usually be an immediate relative of the decedent.

Who Has a Right to Damages in Wrongful Death Cases?

A personal representative of a decedent’s estate makes sure that, if a wrongful death claim is filed, all surviving relatives who are eligible to receive damages are named in the claim. Survivors who are eligible for damages in Florida include:

  1. a decedent’s parents, children, and spouse
  2. adopted siblings and blood relatives who were “partly or wholly” financially dependent on the wrongful death victim

A child of unwed parents may acquire damages when the mother was a victim of wrongful death, but when the father was the decedent, damages are awarded only when the father acknowledged the child and supported (or was legally obligated to support) the child.

What Is the Deadline for Wrongful Death Claims?

Every state has a deadline or “statute of limitations” for wrongful death actions. In this state, for most wrongful death cases, the deadline is usually two years, with very rare exceptions.

Should you choose to bring a wrongful death claim, your attorney will review the details of the death, determine which party or parties have liability, and advocate for your family’s interests in private negotiations, or if necessary, in court.

Wrongful death claims in this state are usually settled outside of the courtroom when the attorneys for each side negotiate in private. A good Miami wrongful death attorney will aggressively negotiate for your family’s rights and for the justice you deserve.

What Can Surviving Relatives Expect to Receive?

If out-of-court negotiations don’t produce a settlement, your attorney may suggest going to court and asking jurors to order payment of compensation to your family. Surviving family members are entitled by Florida law to damages for:

  1. funeral, burial, and final medical costs
  2. loss of support and services provided by the decedent
  3. loss of companionship and guidance
  4. pain, anguish, and emotional suffering

A wrongful death victim’s estate may also seek damages for lost income, including lost earnings capacity – that is, the income that a decedent would reasonably have been expected to receive prior to retirement.

What Does It Take To Prevail With a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims in this state are comparable in many ways to personal injury claims. The plaintiff (that is, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate) and the plaintiff’s lawyer must prove these “elements” of their claim (much like personal injury plaintiffs):

  1. The injured plaintiff was owed a “duty of care” by the allegedly negligent defendant.
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care with negligence.
  3. That negligence constituted a direct cause of the decedent’s death.
  4. The survivors’ losses are quantifiable and demonstrable, and they should receive damages in that amount.

How Is the “Duty of Care” Defined?

The duty of care is the legal “duty” we each owe to one another, but the “degree” of care will differ in different circumstances. A driver, for example, “owes” a “duty” to those on the road to drive prudently and safely.

Along with compensatory damages, in some cases, a Florida court may order a negligent party to pay punitive damages to surviving family members. Punitive damages are intended as punishment so that the negligent behavior doesn’t happen again.

How Do Wrongful Death Lawyers Help Surviving Family Members?

Who is liable for wrongful deaths in the State of Florida? You may be surprised. In February 2020, a family in Palm Beach County sued Publix for selling a dangerous knife to a juvenile who allegedly used it to commit murder. The case has not yet been decided.

However, if you and your loved ones bring a claim for wrongful death, the right Miami wrongful death lawyer will identify all parties who may have liability and uncover all potential sources of compensation.

Should you lose a loved one because another person was negligent, it may be difficult to think about anything but your family’s grief. Even though it will be a difficult time, it’s important to speak quickly to a wrongful death attorney, such as Amanda D. Demanda, who will work aggressively on your family’s behalf.