You often see news headlines about someone winning a wrongful death judgment. But what does this mean exactly? Can anyone file a wrongful death lawsuit? And what exactly do you have to prove to win a jury verdict?
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
In plain English, a wrongful death lawsuit is a type of personal injury (or tort) claim. But unlike most torts, which are derived from the history of American common law, wrongful death actions are purely creations of statutory law–specifically, the Florida Wrongful Death Act. This means that any wrongful death claim must comply with the strict terms of the Act.
One key difference between a normal tort and wrongful death is who has the right to bring a lawsuit. For example, let’s say you are injured in a car accident. Obviously, you can sue the other driver for negligence. But what if someone is killed in a car accident? The dead cannot sue.
This is where wrongful death comes into play. The Florida Wrongful Death Act allows the deceased victim’s spouse, children, and parents to bring a lawsuit against the negligent party. In some siblings or other blood relatives may bring a wrongful death claim if they were “dependent” on the deceased individual for “support or services.” Basically, the Wrongful Death Act is designed to compensate the victim’s survivors for their losses in connection with the negligent act.
Because there are often multiple parties entitled to benefit from a wrongful death claim, Florida law vests the actual right to file a lawsuit with the personal representative (executor) of the deceased individual’s estate. The personal representative must act “for the benefit of” the survivors and the estate. Note that the Wrongful Death Act constitutes an exclusive remedy–the estate cannot bring a separate personal injury claim, as that died with the individual.
What Compensation May Wrongful Death Survivors Seek?
If the defendant–or the defendant’s estate, if the individual is deceased–is found liable for wrongful death, the Act allows a court to award several types of damages as compensation to the survivors. This includes but is not limited to:
- If a family member paid the deceased person’s final medical or funeral expenses, they are entitled to reimbursement.
- If the deceased was married, the spouse is entitled to compensation for the “value of lost support and services,” the loss of their spouse’s companionship, and their ongoing “mental pain and suffering.”
- If the deceased had minor children, they are similarly entitled to compensation for their loss of “companionship, instruction, and guidance,” as well as mental pain and suffering. If the deceased was unmarried at the time of death, his or her adult children are also entitled to this compensation.
- The estate itself is entitled to compensation for the deceased person’s “loss of earnings,” as measured from the date of the original injury until the time of death, as well as any medical or funeral expenses charged to the estate.
Why You Need to Talk to a Miami Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Not all accidental deaths will justify a wrongful death award. As with any personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove the defendant caused their loved one’s death. And Florida also imposes a strict time limit–typically two years–on filing a wrongful death lawsuit. So if you have reason to believe that a family member’s death was the result of third-party negligence, you need to speak with a Miami wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. Contact Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum, LLP, at 305-371-2692 today to schedule a consultation.