The death of a loved one is one of life’s most traumatic experiences, especially when caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. At Redondo Law, we want to express our sincerest sympathy for your loss. Our law firm has worked with grieving family members, and we know firsthand just how difficult this experience can be.
Florida’s wrongful death laws provide a system through which surviving family members can receive compensation for the death of a loved one caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless actions. While no amount of money can ever truly compensate you for the loss of someone you love, the law does enable you to recover the financial losses related to your loved one’s wrongful death.
In this way, the law attempts to put your family back in the same financial position you were in prior to your loss by ordering the person or entity who caused the death to pay you and other survivors damages.
If you believe that your loved one died as a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongful act, then you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Although filing a wrongful death lawsuit may be the last thing on your mind during this difficult time, hiring a caring and compassionate wrongful death attorney is the first step to making a financial recovery after your loss.
Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Redondo Law today to learn more about the first steps of filing your wrongful death claim.
What are the most common types of wrongful death lawsuits?
The plaintiff(s) in a wrongful death lawsuit, as in any other personal injury or tort action, must prove that the defendant’s negligent or willful actions were the proximate cause of the decedent’s injury and death.
Some of the most common types of wrongful death lawsuits in Florida include the following:
- Car accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits stemming from car accidents involve situations where a person’s death is caused by the negligence or wrongful actions of another driver. These lawsuits typically aim to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions and seek compensation for the losses suffered by the deceased person’s family.
- Truck accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits arising from truck accidents occur when a person is killed as a result of a collision involving a commercial truck. These cases often involve complex legal and liability issues due to the regulations and standards specific to the trucking industry.
- Motorcycle accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits related to motorcycle accidents involve fatalities resulting from collisions or accidents involving motorcycles. Due to the bias that exists against many motorcycle riders, these cases often require a careful examination of the circumstances surrounding the accident to determine liability and establish a claim for compensation on behalf of the deceased person’s family.
- Boating and fishing accidents. Wrongful death lawsuits in boating and fishing accidents occur when someone dies due to a watercraft-related incident, such as a boating collision, capsizing or drowning. These cases may involve factors such as negligence, improper maintenance of the watercraft or violations of boating regulations and require an attorney with specialized knowledge of maritime law in Florida.
What’s the difference between accidental death and wrongful death?
Accidental death and wrongful death both result in someone’s death. By definition, “wrongful death” presupposes that the death results from the wrongful or negligent act of another. An accidental death is presumed to result from an accident for which nobody is to blame and could not have been avoided by normal cautionary behavior.
A wrongful death, such as a speeding driver who causes a car accident that kills another driver, usually serves as grounds for a claim for compensation from the perpetrator. Accidental death, having nobody to blame, usually serves as no grounds for a lawsuit for damages.
A possible exception applies in the case of some product liability cases where the doctrine of strict liability might apply. Those cases are based on the notion that an injured consumer might not be able to show that the manufacturer was negligent or that the manufacturer’s conduct was the proximate cause.
However, while the consumer’s death from the product use might have been essentially accidental, the manufacturer knew of the risk of accidental death but put it on the market anyway. That’s what might make an otherwise accidental death wrongful.
Examples of accidental causes of death (that typically don’t qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit)
Some examples of accidental death include the following:
- Suffocation caused by choking on food or drowning
- Slipping and falling in your own home
- Getting struck by lightning or injured in a natural disaster like a hurricane
All of these examples of unintentional death are subject to a big IF, that is that nobody’s actions or inactions were the proximate cause of the accident. The bottom line is that an accidental death is any death that is not caused by the actions of another.
Recent Florida deaths in the news
In February 2023, two people were driving together on I-95 in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The driver lost control of their car and drove off the road, crashing into a traffic control box. The woman died while the man survived.
No other vehicles or parties were involved in the crash. There were no reports of any alcohol use by the driver, vehicle malfunction or dangerous road conditions.
In September 2022, a family of 4 from Illinois was vacationing in Florida. While parasailing, the mother was killed and two children injured when the boat captain cut their tether, purportedly because of high winds. He did not attempt to help them as he dragged them across the water before they eventually hit the old Seven Mile Bridge.
He was charged with manslaughter and held for a $100,000 bond.
Both of these incidents resulted in a death. The first was an accidental death and the second was a wrongful death. The difference is that in the second case, one of the parties involved committed a willful tortuous action that was the proximate cause of a mother’s death.
What’s the burden of proof in a wrongful death case?
A plaintiff in a wrongful death claim has the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that:
- A death occurred;
- The defendant had a duty of care that applied to the decedent;
- The defendant breached that duty of care, usually by negligent or willful conduct; and
- The defendant’s breach was the proximate cause of the death.
A test for a preponderance of the evidence is whether it is more likely than not that the defendant’s conduct satisfied all of the elements of actionable wrongful death. It is generally accepted that the preponderance test is met if it is 51% or more likely.
How does a wrongful death lawsuit differ from a criminal murder case?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action to resolve disputes between private individuals and entities. Nobody goes to jail. The aim is for one party to compensate another party, usually monetarily.
A criminal action is brought by the state against private individuals or entities that have breached the law for which penalties are imposed. Monetary penalties (e.g., fines) might be imposed but not as compensation. Some penalties may also be imposed in the form of deprivation of freedom (imprisonment).
A big difference between civil and criminal cases is the burden of proof. In criminal cases, usually the state has to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” when the penalty is potential jail time.
In a civil case, the jury must find for the plaintiff by “a preponderance of the evidence.”
Who can sue for wrongful death?
To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must show to the court that you have “standing” to sue. Standing is a legal term that describes a party’s ability to file a lawsuit in court based on their interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. To file a lawsuit, you must prove that you have a sufficient connection to the legal matter.
In a case of wrongful death, typically, a surviving family member has the standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This could include, for example, a spouse, a child or a parent. Exactly who is able to file a lawsuit varies from state to state.
In Florida, the law requires a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to file a wrongful death claim. This personal representative might be named in the will or estate plan of the deceased. If no one was named as a personal representative, then the court will appoint a personal representative for the purpose of filing a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by a personal representative is filed on behalf of the surviving family members. In fact, every surviving family member with an interest in the outcome of the case must be named in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Below are the surviving family members (listed by order of priority) with standing to sue for wrongful death in Florida:
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s biological or adopted children
- The deceased’s parents
- Blood relatives who were dependent on the deceased
- Adopted siblings of the deceased
There are other special rules for children of unmarried parents as well. If the mother of the child dies in a wrongful death incident, then the child may recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, if the father dies, the child can only recover damages if the father recognized the child as his own and provided financial support.
What compensation can I recover in a wrongful death lawsuit?
We recognize that after the loss of a loved one, going to court and filing a wrongful death lawsuit is likely the last thing on your mind. This is a time for grieving, and we understand that no amount of money can ever adequately compensate for your losses.
Still, Florida law attempts to provide a way in which you and other surviving family members can seek retribution for your loss. In some instances, the court may also award what is known as punitive damages, which are designed to prevent the wrongful actions that caused the death from ever happening again.
Under Florida law, damages that surviving family members may be awarded in a wrongful death case include compensation for the following:
- The value of support and services provided to surviving family members by the deceased
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering caused by the loss of a child
- Medical expenses and funeral expenses
- Lost wages, benefits and other earnings that the deceased would have been expected to make if they had lived
Additionally, the decedent’s spouse can recover the value of the decedent’s companionship and protection of which the spouse was deprived, as well as mental pain and suffering. The decedent’s minor children can recover the value of the parental companionship, guidance and advice of which the children were deprived, as well as mental pain and suffering.
Every wrongful death case is different, but the law is clear on what surviving family members should be able to recover when their loved ones are taken away too soon. To learn more about your rights to financial recovery in a wrongful death lawsuit, contact a Miami wrongful death attorney today to discuss your case.
When should I file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Just like personal injury cases, there is a limited window of time in which surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. This window of time is known as the statute of limitations.
A Florida wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date of the death. However, this date may be delayed under certain circumstances. Regardless, it’s important to speak with an experienced Miami wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to preserve your rights to financial recovery.
Contact a Miami wrongful death attorney
Wrongful death claims arise when a death is caused by the negligence or wrongful act of another individual or entity. If you believe that your loved one is the victim of wrongful death, then you should contact a wrongful death attorney to discuss your case. Unfortunately, time is limited, and it’s crucial to begin filing a wrongful death lawsuit before the statute of limitations ends.
At Redondo Law, you will speak to a caring and compassionate team of legal professionals who will put your interests ahead of their own. We care deeply about the success of our clients and will do everything we can to answer your questions, listen to your concerns and advocate tirelessly on your behalf.
Contact our office today for a free consultation.