How To File a Wrongful Death Claim in West Palm Beach
Gregg Hollander | November 25, 2022 | Wrongful death
You can file a personal injury claim if you suffer an injury caused by somebody else’s misconduct. But what sort of claim is appropriate when someone dies in an accident? In West Palm Beach, Florida’s wrongful death statute governs the claim. Wrongful death claims work quite differently from personal injury claims.
What Is a “Wrongful Death”?
A wrongful death occurs when one person causes the death of another through a wrongful act or omission. This could mean negligence, assault, or even breach of a contract or warranty. The conduct that causes the death isn’t necessarily even criminal. Examples of common grounds for wrongful death lawsuits include:
- DUI accidents;
- Medical malpractice;
- Defective products;
- “Road rage”; and
- Premeditated murder.
A wrongful death claim and a criminal prosecution can be ongoing against the same person, at the same time, for the same course of conduct.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
You must prove four facts to win a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care.
- The defendant breached their duty of care to the victim.
- The victim died.
- The defendant’s breach of their duty of care was the proximate cause of the defendant’s death.
Failure to prove even one of these four elements will defeat your claim. Many claims flounder on the issue of proximate cause because proximate cause requires the victim’s death to be a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s misconduct.
The Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Murder Prosecution
A wrongful death claim and a murder prosecution are separate claims, even if they arise from the same incident. Just because a murder defendant walked away with an acquittal doesn’t mean they will win a wrongful death case. Murder is a criminal charge, while wrongful death is a civil claim; it is much more difficult to prove a criminal charge than it is to prove a civil claim. The 1990s O. J. Simpson case shows how an acquitted criminal defendant can still lose a civil lawsuit.
The legal reason for this disparity is the difference in the burden of proof. In a civil lawsuit, the victim must prove the defendant liable by “a preponderance of the evidence.” In a criminal prosecution, the prosecutor must prove the defendant guilty by the much higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In Florida, unlike many states, only the personal representative (executor) of the deceased victim’s probate estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The beneficiaries of a successful claim include the victim’s estate and close relatives.
Normally, the victim’s last will and testament nominates an executor, and the court approves the nomination. Sometimes, there is no will (a child victim, for example). In these cases, the court will appoint the executor. The deceased’s spouse, if any, is likely to be the court’s first choice. The court will probably select another close relative if the deceased had no spouse.
There is a difference between a claim and a lawsuit. You cannot have a lawsuit without a claim, but you can have a claim without a lawsuit. A claim is a mere assertion of liability. You need at least this much to either file a lawsuit or seek a private settlement. Although most people seek a private settlement, it is often wise to file a lawsuit for strategic reasons, even if you ultimately intend to resolve the case through settlement.
The typical steps in filing a wrongful death claim are:
- Gather evidence at the scene of the accident;
- Hold an initial consultation with an attorney;
- Perform a preliminary claim investigation to gather facts and evidence;
- Send a demand letter to the opposing party together with some of the evidence you have collected; and
- Commence settlement negotiations.
If the defendant rejects your claim or ignores you, it might be time to file a lawsuit to get their attention.
Damages in a Florida wrongful death claim can include:
- Loss of support and services;
- Loss of companionship and protection;
- Mental anguish;
- Loss of parental guidance (if the victim was a child);
- Medical expenses;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Lost earnings from the time of the victim’s injury until the date of death; and
- Lost inheritance.
A court will distribute these damages to the estate and to surviving relatives.
Speak With a West Palm Beach Wrongful Death Lawyer
Successful wrongful death claims almost always result in large compensation awards. However, even a large award might amount to less than the true value of your claim. There is a good chance that you will never know how much your claim is worth until you consult with an experienced West Palm Beach wrongful death attorney.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in South Florida
If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact the West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers at the location nearest you for a free consultation:
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Boca Raton Law Office
7000 W Palmetto Park Rd #500
Boca Raton, FL 33433
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Fort Lauderdale Law Office
200 S.E. 6th Street #203
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – West Palm Beach Law Office
319 Clematis St #203
West Palm Beach, FL 33401