If 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.
Survivors, as defined by the Act, may be entitled to recover reimbursement for medical or funeral expenses paid on the deceased person’s behalf and compensation for the lost support and services of the decedent. (The value of future support and services is reduced to present value.) Particular survivors may also pursue additional damages. A surviving spouse may be able to seek damages for loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection, and also for mental pain and suffering.
Minor children (which, under the Act, means children under the age of 25) can seek damages for loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, as well as mental pain and suffering. If the deceased person did not leave a surviving spouse, all children of the decedent can seek these damages. (If both spouses are involved in the same accident and die within 30 days of each other, each is considered to have predeceased the other under the Act.) In cases of deceased children, parents may be entitled to recover mental pain and suffering, depending upon the age of the child and whether there were other “survivors” under the Act.
Damages Available to a Deceased Person’s Estate
In addition to the damages designated to particular survivors of a deceased person who has died as a result of a wrongful death, the deceased person’s estate may also be eligible for lost earnings or lost prospective net accumulations of the estate, depending upon the circumstances. Funeral and medical bills for which the estate is liable may also be recoverable. “Net accumulations” is defined by the Act as the expected net income of the decedent (including pension benefits) that the deceased person would have saved and left as part of his or her estate but for his or her death in the accident giving rise to the wrongful death lawsuit. In calculating net accumulations, there is a subtraction for the deceased person’s tax obligations, personal expenses, and support of survivors.
To Speak to an Experienced Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer
The amount of damages to which a family may be entitled varies widely depending upon factors such as the age and occupation of the decedent, whether the deceased person’s spouse remarried following the accident, and whether the accident was caused by an act of medical malpractice or another type of negligence (some damages are restricted in malpractice suits). A family who is considering a wrongful death action needs to speak to an attorney knowledgeable in these types of case as soon as possible after an accident because there are strict deadlines for filing suit, and failure to timely file can mean no recovery. To schedule an appointment with The Grife Law Firm, call 561-998-0770 today and ask for a free initial consultation. We handle wrongful death cases throughout Florida, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, and Deerfield Beach.
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