Florida car collisions remain one of the most common cause of serious injury and accidental death for local residents. When a loved one passes away, due to the negligence or recklessness of another (as an in auto accidents), surviving family members must protect their legal rights. There may not be cause for a criminal case, but a wrongful death suit is often the next step for a grieving family. However, the law in this area can be complex, and it is best to consult a professional.
Florida Wrongful Death Law
Wrongful death is a civil cause of action, and in Florida, it has a statute of limitations of two years starting from the date of death. There are two types of damages that can be recovered if a jury finds in your favor: survivors’ damages, and estate damages. Florida’s wrongful death statute defines survivors as a decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and anyone else partially or wholly dependent on the decedent for support. They can sue for things like pain and suffering, loss of support and services, and funeral expenses (if funeral expenses were paid for by a survivor). A decedent’s estate, by comparison, can only recover for the decedent’s lost earnings.
A wrongful death case is usually tried under the principles of negligence law, and to receive a favorable verdict, an attorney must show that all five criteria of negligence law have been met. Those criteria are:
- The existence of a duty to exercise reasonable care;
- A breach of that duty;
- The immediate cause of that breach – for example, a fire destroying a house;
- The proximate cause of the harm – for example, a downed power line that started the fire; and
- Harm done (actual damages).
While the criteria to obtain a favorable verdict in a wrongful death case are fairly cut and dried, discerning what the damages may be can be difficult. Things like lost earnings are reasonably quantifiable, but other categories of damages are harder. For example, survivors are able to claim damages for things like loss of consortium/companionship, but that is an intangible benefit of someone’s presence. The decision on numbers is entirely left up to the jury.
There are caveats that must be kept in mind in filing a wrongful death lawsuit For example, if the death of your loved one was of a particularly gross and reckless nature, or as a result of the defendant’s intentional misconduct, punitive damages may be appropriate. As one might expect from the name, punitive damages are those awarded in addition to actual damages, and are intended to punish the defendant. In Florida, the amount of punitive damages is capped at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. Punitive damages are rare, but they do happen, especially if the defendant’s acts are particularly egregious.
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