The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult situations imaginable. It only becomes more difficult when the death was preventable or avoidable. The State of Florida allows for wrongful death causes of action to allow the relatives of the deceased to receive compensation in certain circumstances. Read this blog post to learn all about what you need to prove in a wrongful death claim in Florida. The post will cover what the cause of action is, how it can be proven, who can bring the claim, and more.
What Is a “Wrongful Death Claim” in Florida?
“When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued, the person or watercraft that would have been liable in damages if death had not ensued shall be liable for damages.”
For example, you and a loved one are out boating. It’s a busy weekend, and there are a lot of people out on their boats. Unfortunately, another boater is not paying attention, and they crash into your boat. If you or your loved one are injured as a result of the other boater’s negligence, you would likely be able to seek damages from the other boater. Similarly, if your loved one passes away because of the injuries they sustained in the boating accident, the other boater may be sued for your loved one’s death.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased person is unable to bring the lawsuit. Therefore, according to Florida law, the deceased person’s personal representative brings a lawsuit against the other person on the deceased person’s behalf. Any damages that the deceased person’s personal representative recovers from the wrongful death lawsuit are for the benefit of the deceased person’s survivors and estate. Furthermore, wrongful death lawsuits in Florida must be filed within two years of the date of death.
How Do I Prove a Wrongful Death Claim in Our Florida?
In Florida, the elements necessary for a successful wrongful death lawsuit are similar to the elements of a negligence lawsuit:
- First, the plaintiff or personal representative must prove that the defendant or other party had a duty of care to the deceased person. Typically this means that the plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a responsibility to act reasonably (i.e., following rules, being careful, etc.) under the circumstances that lead to the wrongful death. For example, a boater should pay attention to what they are doing to keep other boaters safe.
- Second, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. To prove that a defendant breached their duty of care, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted below the duty of care owed to the deceased person. For example, if the defendant is not paying attention while boating or driving a car, their actions breach the duty of care owed to the deceased person.
- Finally, the plaintiff must prove causation or that the defendant’s breach of their duty of care was the cause of the deceased person’s death. For example, even if the defendant was not paying attention while boating, they would not be liable for the deceased person’s death if they passed away as a result of an unrelated medical issue.
Who Can Receive Wrongful Death Damages?
Florida law allows the deceased person’s survivors to receive damages from a wrongful death claim. Florida law defines a “survivor” as “the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters. It includes the child born out of wedlock of a mother, but not the child born out of wedlock of the father unless the father has recognized a responsibility for the child’s support.”
The statute also states that “each survivor may recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury to her or his death, with interest, and future loss of support and services from the date of death and reduced to present value.”
Some survivors may receive other damages:
- The surviving spouse can recover damages related to the loss of companionship and protection and mental pain and suffering.
- Minor children (and all children if there isn’t a surviving spouse) can recover damages related to the loss of parental companionship, instruction, guidance, and mental pain and suffering.
- Each parent of an adult child may recover damages related to mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.
- Medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death may be recovered by a survivor who has paid them.
These are just some of the nuances that relate to who can receive wrongful death damages. A personal injury attorney can walk you through all the possibilities.