How To Prove a Florida Wrongful Death Claim
Gregg Hollander | September 15, 2022 | Personal Injury
Losing a family member is heartbreaking. But, when the death is avoidable, the loss can be overwhelming. Florida’s Wrongful Death Act gives family members a legal cause of action to hold the party responsible for their loved one’s death financially liable for damages.
What Is Considered Wrongful Death Under Florida Law?
The law states that family members have a right of action when the death of a loved one is caused by negligence, wrongful act, or breach of warranty or contract if the deceased party could have filed an action to recover damages had they not died from their injuries.
Surviving family members who can sue for wrongful death include:
- Blood relatives or adopted siblings who depended on the deceased person for their financial support
In Florida, the personal representative for the estate files the wrongful death claim on behalf of the above beneficiaries. Any money received from the lawsuit is paid to the surviving family members.
Wrongful death lawsuits can arise from any personal injury case, including car accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, workplace accidents, and premises liability.
What Are the Legal Elements for a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?
The deceased person’s estate is the plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit. The plaintiff has the burden of proving their case by a preponderance of the evidence. The jurors must find that there is a greater than 50% chance that the allegations against the defendant are true.
The legal elements that the plaintiff must prove for a wrongful death claim are:
- Duty of Care – The defendant had a legal duty of care regarding the deceased person.
- Breach of Duty – The defendant breached the duty of care owed to the deceased person through the defendant’s acts or omissions.
- Causation – The defendant’s breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of the person’s death.
- Damages – The surviving family members sustained damages because their family member died.
A duty of care arises from a legal, moral, or custom. For example, a driver has a duty of care not to operate the vehicle in a manner that places others on the road at risk of death or injury. Likewise, a property owner has a duty of care to maintain safe premises for invitees and guests.
A breach of duty occurs when the defendant does not use reasonable care and caution. The circumstances of the case determine the level of care. Jurors must decide what a “reasonable person” would have done in the situation and decide if the defendant’s conduct fell short of that standard.
Proving the defendant breached their duty of care is insufficient to win a wrongful death case. The plaintiff must prove that the breach directly and proximately caused the person’s death. If they cannot link the death to the defendant’s breach of duty, they lose the case.
What Damages Can a Family Receive for a Wrongful Death Claim?
The at-fault party is responsible for damages if the family proves all of the required legal elements for a wrongful death claim. Damages in a wrongful death action include:
- Lost wages and income
- Funeral expense
- Loss of future net accumulation (future lost earnings)
- The value of the family member’s services and support
- Medical expenses incurred from the injury date through the deceased’s death
- Loss of protection and companionship
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance for minor children
The damages received depend on the person’s relationship with the deceased family member. In addition to the above damages, the estate can sue for punitive damages in some cases. Punitive damages are only awarded in cases involving gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
A skilled wrongful death lawyer analyzes the case to determine what damages the family can receive. Then, the lawyer fights to maximize the amount of money recovered for the family.
It is important to note that allegations of contributory fault could lower the amount of money a family receives for a wrongful death action. If the deceased person contributed to the cause of their death, the amount of compensation is reduced by the deceased person’s percentage of fault.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida?
Florida’s statute of limitations sets a deadline to sue for wrongful death. Most wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years. The time begins on the date of the person’s death, which might be after the accident that caused the injury that led to their death.
Because there are exceptions to the statutes of limitations, it is always best to seek legal advice as soon as possible after the death of a loved one.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Law Firm in South Florida
If you’ve been injured in an accident, please contact our experienced personal injury lawyers in Florida at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today. We have three convenient locations in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
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