How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work?
Nothing is more tragic than losing your loved one. The loss of your spouse, children, or parents can be emotionally and financially devastating. Unfortunately, loved ones could die because of other people’s careless or reckless actions, making matters worse for victims’ families.
If you are in this situation, you can file a lawsuit to obtain compensation from the wrongdoer. Although a lawsuit doesn’t bring your loved one back, getting compensated for their loss can at least relieve you of some burdens caused by their death. Let’s take a closer look at how wrongful death lawsuits and survival actions work in Florida.
What Are Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Florida wrongful death lawsuits typically allege that a victim died because of another person's carelessness. Wrongful death claims mainly involve negligence – the basis of most personal injury lawsuits. For a court to consider a person negligent, they must have behaved in a manner that a reasonably prudent person would not have behaved under the same circumstances.
A successful negligence lawsuit establishes that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, violated that duty, and this caused an injury or death to the victim. With this in mind, we describe common accidents that often lead to personal injury and wrongful death claims.
5 Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death cases can arise out of anywhere, with common causes including:
Car crashes: Wrongful death claims frequently result from car crashes. Other vehicular accidents, including truck collisions, motorcycle crashes, pedestrian incidents, and cyclist accidents, also lead to those types of lawsuits.
Medical malpractice: If a doctor makes a mistake when diagnosing or treating someone, then it could lead to a personal injury or wrongful death case. If a doctor or other medical provider makes a mistake that injures or kills the patient, the victim or their representatives may have a claim against the injury-causing party. For example, if a surgeon injures a patient or prescribes the wrong medication which leads to the patient’s death, then the victim’s loved ones likely have grounds for a lawsuit.
Premises liability claims: These claims arise when a person suffers injuries because of dangerous conditions on another’s property. One example of this type of claim is a slip and fall, which is where the victim injures themselves in a fall caused by a slippery floor, broken tiles, or another flaw that the defendant should have fixed but didn’t. Liability in these cases depends in part on whether or not the victim was legally allowed on the property. Specifically, property owners owe various levels of care to their guests and visitors, including trespassers.
Product liability claims: This category of lawsuits involves a person suffering injuries because of a dangerous or defective product. If a bad product causes a person’s death, then the representative of their estate may file a wrongful death action against the manufacturer, distributor, or other merchant who sold or handled the product. An example of a product liability claim would be a defective space heater that catches fire, resulting in someone’s death.
Sometimes, wrongful death claims result from the defendant's intentional actions. Even if the defendant faces criminal liability, representatives of the victim's estate may also file a wrongful death claim seeking civil remedies, including damages.
Can Family Members Sue for Wrongful Death?
In Florida, the personal representative of the victim's estate has the right to file a wrongful death claim. If the victim created a valid will prior to their death, then the person named as the executor or executrix (e.g. spouse, son, daughter) is responsible for initiating the wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim did not create a valid will by the time of their death, a court-appointed personal representative can bring suit to get justice for the victim and their family.
Notably, the victim’s surviving family members will be the beneficiaries of any settlement or verdict. Family members who have a right to recover in wrongful death actions include spouses, parents, and children. Adoptive siblings and blood relatives who relied entirely or partially on the victim for their support might also be able to recover damages.
What Damages Are Awarded in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Florida law gives the victim’s family members the right to damages (compensation) in wrongful death claims. Damages in wrongful death suits differ from those that a personal injury victim may claim. Personal injury cases involve medical expenses and lost wages to help support the injured person and cover injury-related costs. In wrongful death actions, however, damages intend to provide assistance for surviving family members.
Possible damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit include the following:
- Compensation for the services and financial support that the victim provided to family members
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of companionship, protection, and guidance
- Mental and emotional suffering for parents who lost a child
- Lost benefits, wages, and earnings that the victim would have likely earned
- Lost value and accumulations of wealth that the estate reasonably would have gained if the victim had survived
A Florida judge may also award punitive damages in cases where the defendant behaved in a particularly egregious manner. These damages are meant to punish the defendant's behavior and to deter others from committing similar wrongs. Keep in mind that punitive damages are only awarded if evidence proves that the defendant acted in a reckless, intentional, or extremely negligent manner.
Wrongful Death vs. Survival Actions: What’s the Difference?
Wrongful death claims cover damages resulting from the victim’s death, while survival actions concern damages that would have possibly been owed to the victim if they were still alive and had sued. For example, if the victim was injured in a truck accident and they suffered for months before succumbing to their injuries, then the representative of the victim’s estate can bring a survival action.
What are survival damages? These damages may include:
- Pain and suffering that the victim experienced from the date of their injury to the date of death
- Medical costs incurred prior to the victim's death
- Lost benefits, wages, and earnings from the date of the injury to the date of death
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Florida
The statute of limitations (the time limit to sue) in wrongful death or survival claims is 2 years from the date of the victim’s death. Individuals who fail to file their claims before the limitations period expires typically cannot pursue a lawsuit. Because of this, families should never wait to contact a wrongful death lawyer. The sooner they call an attorney, the better. Valid or not, Florida courts will not handle wrongful death claims if they violate Florida’s statute of limitations.
Call our Florida Wrongful Death Attorneys
Losing a loved one is overwhelming enough, especially when it is caused by someone’s negligence and recklessness. If someone is at fault for causing your loved one’s death, then you have the right in Florida to sue them. Before you do, it is wise to consult with a wrongful death attorney promptly so you can protect your right to sue and recover damages.
The Watson Firm, PLLC is experienced in handling wrongful death lawsuits to help victims and their families get justice and compensation. When you retain our representation, we will be here for you every step of the way and work tirelessly to help you recover every dollar you deserve.