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Florida Judge Awards $11 Million to Family in Wrongful Death Lawsuit

a grieving family in a cemetery after a wrongful death case

Dangerous and defective consumer products are often deadly. And if a manufacturer allows a defective product onto the market that kills someone, they can be held liable under Florida’s wrongful death laws. While no civil judgment can ever undo the damage that has been done, it can provide the victim’s surviving family members with a sense of justice and financial compensation for their losses.

Mother of Four Died After Taking Dangerous Dietary Supplement

For example, a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, recently awarded $11 million in damages in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of a 39-year-old woman who collapsed and died after using an unregulated dietary supplement known as Kratom. The court entered default judgment for the victim’s estate after the two named defendants failed to appear or respond to the lawsuit.

WTSP reported that the victim, Krystal Talavera, collapsed at her home on the morning of Father’s Day 2021 while making breakfast. She subsequently died at a local hospital. Talavera’s partner found an open package of kratom near her body, and the Palm Beach County coroner’s officer later determined that the cause of death was “mitragynine intoxication.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mitragynine speciosa is a tree native to Southeast Asia that is more commonly referred to as kratom. Leaves from the kratom tree are often eaten or brewed into drinks. While the FDA has never approved kratom for use in any prescription or over-the-counter drug, it is often used as a recreational drug for mood enhancement as well as a “home remedy” to self-treat conditions such as pain, diarrhea, and opioid withdrawal. The FDA believes about 1.2 million Americans use kratom each year.

But medical professionals have long said that kratom is not a safe or effective treatment for any condition. The Mayo Clinic noted that about 1,800 cases of kratom poisoning were reported in the United States between 2011 and 2017. Kratom use can cause a number of side effects, including weight loss, liver damage, depression, breathing suppression, seizures, coma, and death. For this and other reasons, the FDA has said that kratom is “not appropriate for use as a dietary conventional supplement.”

Following Krystal Talavera’s death, her estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner and operator of a company called Grow, LLC, which marketed kratom in the United States and sold the supplement that caused Talavera’s death. The case was heard by U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of the Southern District of Florida. As neither of the named defendants appeared, Judge Middlebrooks entered a default judgment for the estate.

After a separate hearing on the issue of damages, the court awarded $11,642,895.70 in compensation to Talavera’s four children. This included $7 million in non-economic damages: $2 million to each of Talavera’s three minor children and $1 million to her adult son. The estate had sought total non-economic damages of $20 million. But Judge Middlebrooks said that would be excessive when compared to similar Florida wrongful death cases. Nevertheless, he emphasized that “this is a tragic case” and that “no award of damages will ever be adequate” to fully compensate the children for the premature death of their mother.

The Importance of Working with an Experienced Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer

There are a couple of questions you may have about this story. First, what does a “default judgment” mean in a wrongful death case. And second, what are “non-economic damages” and how did the judge arrive at a figure of $7 million?

On the first question, when a person is sued and fails to appear in court or respond in a timely manner, the court can enter a default judgment for the plaintiff. A default judgment does not mean the judge will simply give the plaintiff the amount of damages they sought in their complaint. Indeed, the plaintiff still has to attend a hearing and prove their damages to the court. The default judgment simply means they do not have to prove the defendant is liable.

Regarding the calculation of non-economic damages, in a wrongful death case the emotional pain and suffering of the victim’s surviving family members–in this case her children–is impossible to actually quantify in dollar terms. After all, you cannot simply present a “bill” to the court for the loss of a parent. So these kinds of losses are described as non-economic damages. It is left to the judge–or a jury, in a contested trial–to determine the exact amount. But as this case demonstrates, courts will usually look at the amount of non-economic damages awarded in comparable wrongful death cases to determine what is fair and reasonable.

The inherent malleability of non-economic damages is just one reason it is important to work with an experienced South Florida wrongful death attorney who can review your case and represent you in any settlement negotiations or litigation. Contact Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum, LLP, at 305-371-2692 today to schedule a free consultation.