If someone you love has been killed due to the actions of another party, you may be entitled to wrongful death benefits. However, Florida state law puts restrictions on who can file a wrongful death lawsuit and receive benefits. This article will explain these issues in detail.
Wrongful Death Defined
A wrongful death claim may be filed when someone’s negligence or otherwise reckless behavior results in another person’s death. This claim is distinct from criminal proceedings. In a criminal case, the person responsible for the loss of life gets punished for violating a law. By contrast, a wrongful death suit is a civil action meant to financially compensate surviving family members for the loss of a loved one.
Wrongful death lawsuits are often associated with negligence and medical malpractice, but Florida includes any “wrongful act” that leads to a fatality in its statute. In addition to negligence, a wrongful act can include a breach of contract, illegal activity, and more.
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death?
According to Florida Statute § 768.19, only a personal representative or party named in the deceased’s will can initiate a wrongful death claim. If this person has not been named, then the court will appoint someone.
The beneficiaries who can collect from a wrongful death lawsuit are limited to the following parties:
- Other parties who can show that they rely on the deceased person’s financial support, including unmarried or same-sex partners, other people who lived with the deceased in a multifamily household, estranged children, non-related dependents, and more
- Parents can receive damages in a wrongful death suit if no other beneficiaries have been identified
Other Considerations in a Wrongful Death Claim
Before anyone can file a wrongful death claim, it must first be established that wrongful death occurred. In addition, an attorney may have to verify eligibility to be able to make a claim. For example, the matter can get complicated in situations like divorce, remarriage, stepchildren, adopted children, illegitimate children, and posthumous children.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer to Help with a Wrongful Death Claim?
Hiring a lawyer for a wrongful death case is important for several reasons, as these cases can be legally complex and emotionally challenging. Here are some key reasons why it’s crucial to have legal representation in a wrongful death case:
- Legal Experience: Wrongful death cases involve intricate legal issues, rules, and procedures. An experienced attorney is knowledgeable about the laws, regulations, and statutes relevant to wrongful death claims. They can navigate the legal system efficiently and ensure that your case adheres to all legal requirements.
- Investigative Skills: Attorneys have the resources and skills to investigate the circumstances surrounding the wrongful death thoroughly. They can collect evidence, interview witnesses, consult experts, and gather the necessary information to build a strong case.
- Advocacy and Negotiation: A skilled attorney can effectively advocate on your behalf, whether in negotiations with insurance companies or in court. They can present your case in the best possible light, aiming to secure a fair and just settlement or verdict.
- Understanding of Damages: Determining the appropriate compensation for a wrongful death case can be complex. Attorneys are skilled at evaluating the damages involved, including economic losses (such as medical bills and funeral expenses) and non-economic damages (like pain and suffering). They can help ensure that all potential damages are considered.
When searching for a lawyer to handle your wrongful death claim, look for one with plenty of positive feedback and reviews from past clients. Make sure to use free consultations to speak with promising attorneys to ensure you feel comfortable with them and are confident that they can get you the outcome you and your family deserve.
Wrongful Death Benefits
The types of wrongful death benefits that can be sought depend mainly on who is making a claim. In general, any plaintiff can receive compensation for funeral expenses, medical expenses incurred from the incident, and lost wages that the deceased would have received to help pay for the claimant’s support.
If the person seeking wrongful death benefits was the spouse, benefits could include loss of companionship as well as reimbursement for financial contributions, including lost income.
In the case of a child, there is a distinction here whether a child is a minor or not. For a wrongful death lawsuit, the threshold for being a minor is 25 years of age. If the death happens before the child reaches this age, the child can recover damages for financial support and the value of the parent’s services.
Other benefits will be calculated for missing out on the parent’s guidance, mentorship, and the emotional component of pain and suffering. The court considers factors such as the age of the child, the deceased person’s income, and the expected future financial support the child would have received if the wrongful death had not occurred. In some cases, a guardian or conservator may be appointed to manage the minor’s portion of the award until they reach the age of majority.
The same benefits are available to adult children over 25. Still, the calculations will likely result in a different sum due to the assumption that most children over 25 won’t require the same level of financial support. The court considers their specific losses, including the financial support they would have received from the deceased and the emotional and personal impact of the loss. These damages are calculated on a case-by-case basis.
For parents seeking benefits for the wrongful death of their child, the compensable damages include mental anguish and emotional distress.
How Are Non-Economic Damages in Wrongful Death Cases Calculated?
In Florida, attorneys calculate non-economic damages for pain and suffering in wrongful death or personal injury cases by considering several factors and using different methods. Non-economic damages, which encompass pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life, are not as easily quantifiable as economic damages like medical bills or lost wages.
Attorneys use various approaches to arrive at a reasonable value for these damages:
- Multiplier Method: One common method is the multiplier approach. In this method, the attorney calculates economic damages (such as medical expenses and lost income) and then multiplies that figure by a certain factor, typically between 1.5 and 5, depending on the severity of the injuries, to determine non-economic damages. For example, if the economic damages are $100,000, and the attorney and client agree on a multiplier of 3, the non-economic damages for pain and suffering would be $300,000.
- Per Diem (Daily Rate) Method: Attorneys may also use a per diem method. They assign a specific daily rate for pain and suffering, and then calculate the total non-economic damages based on the number of days the injured person experienced pain and suffering. This method can be more suitable for short-term injuries or suffering.
- Comparative Analysis: Attorneys may analyze the specifics of the case, such as the nature and severity of the injuries, the impact on the individual’s life, and how the injuries have affected their ability to work, enjoy life, or maintain relationships. They may then compare the case to similar cases that have been decided by courts or through settlements to arrive at a reasonable figure for non-economic damages.
- Expert Testimony: In some cases, expert witnesses, such as medical professionals, psychologists, or economists, may be called upon to provide testimony and offer their assessments of the pain and suffering experienced by the injured party.
Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death Damages in Florida?
No. In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court found that caps on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases are unconstitutional. That means family members who are grieving the deaths of their loved ones are free to pursue as much compensation as they and their lawyers believe they deserve for their losses.
Time is of the Essence–Schedule a Free Consultation Today
Florida has a wrongful death statute of limitations of two years.
However, there are some exceptions or circumstances under which the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims may be extended or tolled (suspended). Some of the common exceptions or circumstances that could affect the statute of limitations in Florida include:
- Discovery Rule: In certain cases, the clock on the statute of limitations may not start ticking until the wrongful death is discovered, or the cause of death is determined. This rule is typically applied when the cause of death was not immediately apparent.
- Minority of the Survivor: If the person eligible to file the wrongful death claim is a minor (under the age of 18), the statute of limitations may be extended until the minor reaches the age of majority. This means the minor can file the claim after turning 18.
- Mental Incapacity: If the person eligible to bring the wrongful death claim is declared legally incapacitated at the time of the incident or during the statute of limitations period, the time for filing may be extended until they regain capacity.
- Criminal Proceedings: If a criminal case related to the wrongful death is ongoing, the statute of limitations for the civil wrongful death claim may be tolled until the resolution of the criminal case.
- Fraud or Concealment: If the defendant engaged in fraudulent conduct or concealed evidence related to the wrongful death, the statute of limitations may be extended.
- Foreign Object: In medical malpractice cases, if a foreign object is discovered within the body of the deceased person that contributed to the wrongful death, the statute of limitations may be extended to two years from the date of discovery of the foreign object.
Though it can be tough to think about litigation while grieving, we are here to help you through the process and hold the party responsible accountable. Contact the Miami wrongful death attorneys at Aigen Law today to schedule a free consultation.
Originally published March 30, 2022. Updated November 10, 2023.