There are few things as tragic as a human life ending due to an accident, but when the death happens because of someone else's negligence, you will want justice. For many surviving family members in South Florida, the only way to make responsible parties atone for their negligence is via a wrongful death civil suit.
Unfortunately, not all accidental deaths are actionable through the courts. Read more to learn about whether your loved one's fatal accident qualifies for a wrongful death lawsuit in the Florida courts.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
For a personal injury lawyer to successfully pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of their clients, they must be able to establish these elements:
- An individual or individuals have died.
- Another party caused the death(s).
- The actions that caused the death were either intentional or the result of negligence.
- There are survivors of the deceased who have standing.
- There was a monetary loss as a result of the death.
For example, a wife is fatally struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light. Her spouse would be able to bring forward a wrongful death suit because the defendant's negligence caused her death. Additionally, the death would presumably cause a significant monetary impact on the family. As a married person, the deceased's spouse would have standing in the state of Florida.
If your case meets these five elements, you could be entitled to damages. Contact a wrongful death attorney in South Florida to discuss your claim.
How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works
From a legal standpoint, wrongful death actions in Florida work like other personal injury cases. A wrongful death attorney works on a contingency basis, which means that all of your legal consultations are free. The attorney receives payment when they successfully settle or litigate the case. There are, however, some differences between personal injury cases and wrongful death suits.
The Personal Representative
In most personal injury cases, the injured party is also the plaintiff. That's not possible in a wrongful death case. In some states, a family member or loved one can file the suit, but in Florida, a wrongful death suit is filed through the personal representative of the deceased's estate. The personal representative is responsible for listing any individuals who have a legal interest in the estate.
Most family members can establish interest in a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
- A spouse
- Blood relatives
- Adoptive relatives
- Adult Children
- Parents of a deceased minor
In some instances, a romantic partner who is not the deceased's spouse can be listed if they were financially dependent on the deceased.
Statute of Limitations
While with most personal injury suits, the statute of limitations is four years from the date of the accident, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit is two years from the date of death. This is an important distinction in cases where an accident victim dies days or weeks after the accident occurred.
Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The damages involved in wrongful death lawsuits are also different than with non-fatal personal injury action.
In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff is entitled to the same damages that they would be with other types of accidental injuries. The plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement for all medical bills, lost wages (while the victim remained alive but wasn't able to work), property damage, and any other expense incurred as a result of the accident before the time of death. In addition, the plaintiff can recover all burial expenses they incur as a result of the death. If the plaintiff was financially dependent on the deceased, they could recover future lost earnings.
The plaintiff can recover damages for physical and mental pain and suffering. In a wrongful death suit, the survivor(s) can recover damages for their own mental anguish. This is referred to as loss of consortium.
Why You Should Pursue Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Many people who have just experienced the death of a loved one are simply not ready to engage in a legal battle. While it's true that no amount of money can compensate you for the loss of a family member, by not pursuing a claim, you may be setting yourself up for future financial hardships. In the absence of criminal charges, a civil suit may be the only way for you to receive justice and hold the at-fault party accountable. A personal injury lawyer can champion your cause and take care of the legal aspects of your case while you grieve and work on recovering from your tragedy. It's important you don't wait, however. The statute of limitations for wrongful death suits is only two years from the date of death, so it's important to act quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions in Wrongful Death Suits
If you've lost a loved one due to violence or negligence, you should speak to an attorney. At the Weinstein Legal Team, all consultations are free of charge, and you will never have to pay out-of-pocket to discuss your case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In Florida, a personal representative can file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate and the family members who have standing in the suit. If a personal representative isn't identified in a will, your attorney can assist you in having one appointed through the courts.
What If the Responsible Party Is Also Facing Criminal Charges?
If the wrongful death is the result of a crime that the defendant has to answer for, you may, in fact, have to wait until the criminal case is resolved before you can sue. That does not mean that you should wait to speak to a lawyer. It's important for your wrongful death attorney to be involved in the case as early as possible.
Are There Damage Caps in Florida?
The state of Florida does not have caps for compensatory damages wrongful death suits.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in Wrongful Death Suits?
Punitive damages are rare in personal injury cases. Under Florida law, the plaintiff must prove that the actions leading to the wrongful death were the result of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Punitive damages are capped at three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is higher.
My Family Member's Survival Is Still Uncertain. Should I Wait?
There is no point in waiting to discuss your case with a personal injury attorney. If things turn out for the best, your loved one will still require money for medical care and living expenses. In the unfortunate event that they pass, it will be helpful to have some of the legal aspects of your case already taken care of.
Wrongful Death Attorney in Florida
Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyer Justin Weinstein understands how traumatic these types of cases can be for the victim's family and friends. He is familiar with both the legal and emotional needs of wrongful death clients. When you meet with attorney Weinstein, he will walk you through the steps of a wrongful death action in Florida. All consultations are free, and you will not have to pay out-of-pocket for attorney Weinstein's legal advice or work on the case. Call today to discuss justice for your loved one.