Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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Florida has a very complshutterstock_92427613-300x192ex medical malpractice statutory scheme that an injured victim must follow in order to bring a case. Codified under chapter 766, the medical malpractice statutes require great skill to navigate. Amongst a host of other requirements, an injury victim must send relevant data to an expert medical professional in the same or similar specialty as the health care provider who you are going to bring suit against. That expert must then issue an affidavit verifying the negligence. The expert affidavit, along with several other documents, must then be served on the defendant doctor as part of a Notice of Intent to Initiate Medical Malpractice Litigation. All of the above must be accomplished within the two-year Statute of Limitations that Florida law affords victims of medical malpractice.

The recent case of Bay County Board of Commissioners v. Seeley provides us with a nice look at just how complex medical malpractice litigation can be. In Seeley, the plaintiff was injured when she fell off a stretcher while being wheeled by paramedics from her home to the awaiting ambulance. At first, she filed a lawsuit without complying with the medical malpractice pre-suit screening process because she did not believe her case was for medical negligence. That lawsuit was dismissed as the trial court determined her allegations were in fact medical malpractice in nature and thus she had to comply with the requirements of chapter 766.

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shutterstock_233095072-300x201As the holidays approach, many of us will be attending parties at restaurants and having parties at our homes. At most of these parties, alcoholic beverages will be served. So, what are the legal ramifications for a restaurant or homeowner if someone leaves their property intoxicated and causes serious injuries to themselves or others? Florida’s Dram Shop law, codified as Fla. Stat. § 768.125, provides only very limited scenarios under which a business or homeowner can be held liable for the tortious acts of an intoxicated person such as a drunk driver.

Under Florida’s Dram Shop law, there are only two scenarios where a business or homeowner can be successfully sued for the actions of an intoxicated person. Those scenarios are: (1) the willful and unlawful selling or furnishing of alcoholic beverages to a person not of legal drinking age; and (2) knowingly serving a person alcohol who is “habitually addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages.” Under any other circumstances, according to §768.125, a person or business who provides alcoholic beverages to someone of legal drinking age “shall not thereby become liable for injury or damage” caused by or resulting from that intoxicated person.

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shutterstock_287333165The increasing popularity of ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft have given rise to a burgeoning area of law and personal injury claims. Many of us rely on these companies to get us home safely, but sometimes Uber and Lyft drivers can cause automotive crashes. Other times, another driver negligently causes a collision with an Uber or Lyft vehicle. Regardless of fault, there are certain insurance and legal issues that you should be aware of if you are involved in a ride-sharing automotive crash.

Uber and Lyft both market that they have secured high-limit insurance policies for the protection of their passengers. Currently, these two companies advertise that they have $1 million in liability and uninsured motorist coverage per incident (see our website on why you need Uninsured Motorist coverage for your personal automobile policy). This means if you are in a ride-sharing vehicle and that drivers causes a crash, you and all other injured parties have up to $1 million combined in liability coverage for your damages. Likewise, if an uninsured or underinsured driver crashes into your Uber or Lyft vehicle, you (and the other injured persons) will be covered up to $1 million combined from the ride-sharing company.

While $1 million might sound like a lot coverage, what happens if an Uber or Lyft driver causes a crash where there are a multitude of injured people whose aggregate claims are above $1 million? A negligent ride-sharing driver can severely injure or kill passengers in his or her vehicle and other drivers and their passengers. If this tragic event occurs, the injured parties will certainly want to make a claim directly against the ride-sharing company to collect more than the $1 million in insurance coverage. Under the agency law, the ride-sharing companies will likely argue that their drivers are independent contractors and not employees. That would mean under agency law that Uber or Lyft might not be held responsible for the damages.

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shutterstock_45805501 (2)Drunk driving is a very serious crime that causes horrific car crashes.  Often times the drunken driver reaches egregious speeds and does not keep a proper lookout, which causes very heavy impact collisions. Having represented injury victims in Florida for over a decade, I have represented many people who were injured due to drunk and intoxicated drivers.  Often times, victims of drunk drivers and their loved ones feel particularly traumatized knowing that someone acted with such reckless indifference towards their safety – that the accident “did not have to happen”.

Florida law recognizes the extremely reckless nature of crashes caused by drunk drivers and offers punitive damages to their victims. Punitive damages, as prescribed by Fla. Stat. §768.72, are a special kind of damages that are not available in most cases.  They are designed to punish those who cause injury as a result of a, “conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.”  Florida law ensures that drunk drivers are included in
that category.

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calculatorIf you have recently lost a loved one due to the negligence, carelessness, or recklessness of another person or business, you may be wondering about your legal rights to pursue a claim for damages against the responsible party under Florida law. Lawsuits arising from such circumstances are called wrongful death cases and are governed by the Florida Wrongful Death Act, Florida Statutes § 768.16 et seq., and other applicable laws.

When a family suffers the wrongful death of a loved one, there must first be a showing of wrongdoing by the defendant against whom the family seeks to recover. This involves a showing of negligence, a four-step test that requires proof of a duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation. Depending on the type of accident that led to the loved one’s death, there may be other elements that must be proven, but this four-prong test is at the heart of any personal injury lawsuit, including wrongful death actions.

Damages Available to Survivors under the Florida Wrongful Death Act

Once negligence is established, the question becomes the amount of damages that it will take to fully compensate the aggrieved party. In a wrongful death lawsuit, there are two types of damages that may be available. The first class of damages is those to which survivors of the deceased person may be entitled. The Act defines “survivors” as the spouse, children, parents, and, in some situations, other relatives who may have been dependent upon the deceased person for support or services. Children born outside of marriage are recognized by the Act as being the “child” of their biological mother but may not be considered the “child” of their father unless he had recognized a legal responsibility to provide support.

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I received a call this week from a caring son who had lost his mother due to what he believed was a clear-cut case of medical negligence. Like any of us would, he wanted to hold the careless medical practitioner whose negligence killed his beloved mother accountable. He wanted to bring a Wrongful Death lawsuit to seek justice for his tragic loss.

medical_malpractice_lawWhile it broke my heart to do so, I had to inform this gentleman that in Florida he was prohibited from seeking damages for the death of his mother. That’s right: in the State of Florida, the adult children (25 and over) of a parent killed due to medical negligence are prohibited by law from bringing a Wrongful Death lawsuit against the medical practitioner whose negligence killed their parent (see Florida Statute 768.21(8)). Likewise, if an adult child (25 and over) dies due to medical malpractice and he or she has no spouse or children, the parents cannot seek compensation from the at-fault practitioner. It is what has become known in the legal field as a “free kill.”

Throughout the years I have had to explain to many people like the son who I mentioned earlier that there is no justice to be had in Florida for the families of certain medical malpractice victims. It is incomprehensible that a medical practitioner can literally kill someone and there is no justice to be had for the family who has lost a loved one.

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