A Florida wrongful death lawsuit is similar in many ways to a personal injury lawsuit. But, there are a few important differences. One is the statute of limitations–you have just two years to file a wrongful death claim, versus four years for most personal injury cases. Another is the plaintiff in the case: a personal injury case is filed by the injured person, but in a wrongful death case, the injury victim is deceased. That, in turn, means that the damages are different.
The Florida wrongful death statute lays out exactly who can sue for wrongful death and what damages are available to each type of plaintiff. First, we’ll look at who can sue for wrongful death, and then what type of compensation is available to each type of plaintiff.
Who Can File a Florida Wrongful Death Claim?
While multiple parties may be entitled to compensation for wrongful death, the personal representative of the deceased is responsible for filing any wrongful death claim. The personal representative files on behalf of both the estate and any surviving family members who may be entitled to compensation.
People who may be entitled to compensation include the deceased’s:
- Any blood relatives or adoptive siblings who were depending on the deceased for support or services
Compensation for the Estate of the Deceased
Compensation payable to the estate of the deceased is the most limited type of wrongful death compensation. In Florida, the right to personal injury type compensation such as compensation for pain and suffering is cut off with the death of the injured party. The estate can recover:
- Medical or funeral expenses due to the injury or death that were paid by or on behalf of the deceased or are payable by the estate,
- Lost earnings from the date of injury to the date of death (this amount will be reduced by any overlapping compensation for lost support of survivors), and
- Certain lost projected accumulations to the value of the estate, but only when there are survivors in specific categories
An experienced wrongful death attorney can explain in greater detail how the set-off works and which surviving family members will trigger eligibility for compensation for lost accumulations.
Compensation for Survivors
The compensation available to a survivor in a Florida wrongful death lawsuit depends on the role of the survivor in the deceased’s life. Unlike some states, Florida law requires that the amount of compensation payable to each of the survivors, and that payable to the estate, be stated separately in the award. In other words, an award of damages in a wrongful death claim will set forth a specific amount payable to the surviving spouse, and a separate amount payable to each minor child, and so on for each survivor who is awarded compensation.
Compensation Available to Any Eligible Survivor
Each survivor listed above may be entitled to compensation for:
- The value of lost services or support from the date of injury to the date of death
- Future lost support and services from the date of death, reduced to present value
The amount of damages awarded to each will depend on factors such as the level of support the surviving family member would likely have received if the deceased had lived, the replacement value of lost services, and how long the support or services would have been expected to continue.
For example, a minor child who is in college and likely to enter the workforce and decrease or discontinue dependence on their parents within the next few years might receive less compensation than a sibling who is in elementary school and has many years of practical, financial, and emotional dependence on their parents ahead.
There are also certain types of additional damages available only to specific surviving family members.
Compensation for Specific Survivors
Additional compensation may be available to specific family members, such as a surviving spouse or minor child. For purposes of the Florida wrongful death statute, a minor child is defined as one who has not yet reached the age of 25.
- The surviving spouse may recover compensation for loss of companionship and protection, and also for mental pain and suffering
- Minor children may recover for loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, and also for mental pain and suffering
- Children age 25 and older may also recover for loss of companionship, instruction and guidance, and for mental pain and suffering, if there is no surviving spouse
- Parents of a deceased minor child may recover mental pain and suffering
- Parents of a deceased adult child may recover mental pain and suffering only if there are no other survivors
If any survivor has paid medical or funeral expenses due to the injury that resulted in the wrongful death, they may recover those costs as part of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Pursuing Compensation for Wrongful Death in Florida
Putting together a claim for wrongful death in Florida can be complicated. The personal representative of the deceased’s estate is responsible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate and/or the survivors. But, this process is very different from other duties of the personal representative.
The plaintiff in a wrongful death suit must prove that the person or entity being sued was legally responsible for the deceased’s death. The type of evidence required to establish liability may differ depending on the cause of death and other factors, and may require the use of expert witnesses. Similarly, the personal representative will be responsible for proving the losses suffered by each surviving family member. For example, that may require working with an economic expert to establish the present value of lost future support and services.
The personal representative will typically be working with a probate lawyer to administer the estate. But, probate law and negligence law are very different, and it will likely be in the best interests of both the estate and the surviving family members for the personal representative to retain an experienced wrongful death lawyer to handle these claims.
Talk to a Wrongful Death Attorney Right Away
The wrongful death attorneys at Harrell & Harrell are experienced with all types of negligence claims and understand the intricacies of a Florida wrongful death case. We offer free consultations to make sure you have the information you need to make the right decisions for yourself and those depending on you.
Schedule yours right now–call 904-251-1111 or fill out the contact form on this site to get started.