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Wrongful Death Laws in Florida

by | Last updated Mar 2, 2022

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If another person’s negligent acts caused your loved one’s untimely passing, you are well within your rights to seek compensation for wrongful death. Monetary compensation will never make up for the death of a family member.

However, the deceased person’s family can still use the money to pay for funeral expenses. If the victim was the family’s breadwinner, the awarded compensation could help them survive while looking for alternative means of earning income.

Wrongful death lawsuits are considered a civil action in Florida, which means that plaintiffs are not required by law to get legal representation. However, proving wrongful death is a legally complex process that can be difficult to do without a lawyer. To increase your chances of winning a wrongful death claim, it’s a good idea to work with a Florida wrongful death lawyer.

What constitutes a wrongful death case?

A wrongful death claim arises from a loved one’s untimely demise due to their personal injuries’ fatal consequences.

Florida law requires that plaintiffs satisfy three essential elements of a wrongful death case:

  • The defendant’s actions should be considered a wrongful act, negligent, or a breach of contract or warranty.
  • The actions of the defendant should have contributed directly to the cause of the victim’s death.
  • The defendant’s actions would have enabled the deceased victim to file a lawsuit if they survived their injuries.

Don’t let these seemingly straightforward elements fool you; proving that these three elements exist in your case is a legally complicated procedure best left to wrongful death attorneys. Defense attorneys will use every trick available to counteract your arguments, so it’s best to have someone well-versed with the law on your side.

If the death of your family member was caused by physical injuries sustained during an accident, then it’s likely that you have a wrongful death claim in your hands. This list is by no means an exhaustive one, but should give you an idea of what cases can be escalated into a wrongful death claim.

  • Road accidents

    Road accidents happen every day. In 2018, the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reported a total of 403,626 crashes with a daily average of 1,106. In the same report, the FLHSMV also said that 2,917 of these crashes resulted in 3,135 fatalities.

    The reasons for road accidents vary, but most of them are preventable mistakes that spring out of negligence. Sometimes, the said negligence centers around a driver’s failure to ensure that their vehicle is properly maintained or not overloaded. Other times, the negligence lies in failing to ensure that they are adequately rested or not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Medical malpractice

    Doctors, medical institutions, and other healthcare providers are responsible for people’s lives. As such, they can be held accountable for any negligent practices that have resulted in personal injuries. Personal injury lawyers who have worked with wrongful death claims arising from medical malpractice will ensure that a healthcare provider’s negligent actions are the proximate cause of the victim’s untimely demise.

  • Defective products

    Manufacturers and even distributors have a responsibility to ensure that the products they release commercially are safe if used properly. The products should also be replete with warnings for any inherent risks. Failure to accomplish these essential criteria can result in serious physical injuries and even death.

Wrongful Death Laws in Florida

What is the difference between wrongful death and murder?

Both cases involve deaths, but they have several crucial differences. For one, wrongful death is a civil action, while murder is a criminal case. Civil cases are disputes between two private individuals, while criminal proceedings will have a government body (state or federal level) against private individuals or entities.

When filing a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff is seeking monetary compensation for damages such as lost companionship, lost wages, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and more. The penalty is limited to paying financial civil liabilities and do not include incarceration for the defendant.

To win a wrongful death claim, your lawyer only needs to prove that the defendant is more likely than not guilty of the allegations in the civil complaint. In other words, the plaintiff’s side needs only to establish that there is more than 51% of the likelihood that the defendant committed the charges put against them by the plaintiffs.

This contrasts with criminal cases such as murder, where plaintiffs must prove the other party to be “guilty beyond reasonable doubt.” Murder cases also require plaintiffs to establish premeditated intent to kill, while wrongful death is usually centered around negligent actions.

That being said, murder has several degrees in the eyes of the law as well. One type of murder called involuntary manslaughter also centers around one’s negligent actions that cause another’s death.

Again, the main difference between criminal and civil cases applies: civil cases require a different and arguably lower burden of proof, and if successful, will end up with the defendant compensating the plaintiffs for damages.

Meanwhile, criminal cases such as manslaughter require a higher burden of proof and mete out incarceration and fines. Specifically, in Florida, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

How do I choose a wrongful death lawyer?

Choosing the right legal representation will impact your chances of getting the judge and jury to side with your case. Consider the following factors when choosing the right wrongful death lawyer.

  • Comfort Level

    Winning a case requires being completely honest with your legal representative. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you might need to confide personal details about your private life, especially if it can potentially help your attorney argue your case. A confidentiality agreement towards their clients holds every lawyer, so you shouldn’t be too afraid of divulging privileged information. However, how comfortable you are in doing so matters because it will make it easier for you to cultivate an open working relationship with your lawyer.

  • Experience

    In law, the experience differentiates a good lawyer from an excellent one capable of helping you win your case. Ideally, you should choose lawyers who specialize in representing cases similar to yours. Their experience in dealing with similar issues will inform the various strategies they will recommend to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve. While any lawyer would be technically qualified to represent you, an experienced wrongful death lawyer will provide a unique insight into the intricacies of winning a wrongful death claim.

  • Payment Structure

    Most lawyers will either charge you by the hour or a flat fee. However, there are also law firms who will not charge you until you reach a settlement that you deserve. In this scenario, be sure to clarify how much they will charge in the worst and best-case scenarios. Ask them to explain everything before finalizing your decision. Before hiring a lawyer, make sure that you are comfortable with how their lawyer’s fees are structured.

  • Location

    It’s always best to hire a local lawyer for two reasons. First, a local lawyer is more likely to have an intimate understanding of local laws. The definitions for wrongful death, personal injury, negligence, and the like can vary wildly from state to state. This means that a Texas personal injury lawyer may not be the best authority for your personal injury case in Florida.

    Secondly, there are no replacements for personal consultations. While the internet has made impersonal communication easy and reasonably reliable, private consultations can help you communicate more clearly and does away with security risks that always come with any form of mediated communication.

    Not all wrongful death claims go to trial. But when they do, you’ll be glad to have a lawyer who won’t have any problems making appearances in court. Whenever possible, choose a wrongful death lawyer to represent you and help you win your claim.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?

With the victim perishing due to another party’s negligent actions, it falls upon their personal representative to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim’s beneficiaries. The decedent’s beneficiaries can include their spouse, children, parents, and other family members who received financial support from the decedent.

What damages can a claimant recover from a wrongful death claim?

There are two main categories of damages awarded to plaintiffs in court: Compensatory and Punitive damages. Compensatory damages are usually awarded to compensate a plaintiff’s efforts to restore their condition to their original state before receiving their personal injuries. However, since no compensation can bring back a deceased loved one, the damages will most likely be used to cover medical expenses, funeral arrangements, and more.

On the other hand, punitive damages are reserved for the most heinous acts. Judges and juries rarely serve punitive damages. But when they do, they serve punitive damages in hopes of deterring others from committing the same actions in the future.

When filing for compensatory damages, it’s crucial to remember that each claim will need to be tried and tested in court and must come with verifiable evidence. Work with your wrongful death lawyer in Florida to determine which claims you can factually prove and how you’ll gather and present the evidence to convince the judge and jury with your case.

The circumstances surrounding each claim will be different. However, here are four common damages claimed in wrongful death cases.

  • Loss of companionship

    Under Florida law, a surviving spouse may recover damages for loss of companionship. To successfully claim damages for loss of companionship, Florida Statutes require that there must be a valid marriage contract existing between the spouse and the decedent. Proving a loss of companionship claim also entails showing that the defendant’s actions should have contributed directly to the deceased person’s passing.

  • Lost income

    A deceased person’s spouse or surviving beneficiaries can also claim damages for lost income. This is especially valuable if the deceased person was the family’s breadwinner. In computing for damages related to lost income, the judge or jury will ask for documentation regarding the decedent’s income, such as payslips and bank statements.

  • Mental Pain and Suffering

    A surviving spouse and children under the age of 25 of the deceased victim can sue for mental pain and suffering. It’s worth noting that claims of this nature are typically hard to measure because there is no universal standard for it.

    Most judges will leave it to the jury to use their best judgment on deciding the merit of such a claim and how much compensatory damages should be awarded. The jury will typically factor in the degree of economic hardship incurred by the surviving family, and the perceived severity of death, among others. If you plan to include mental pain and suffering in your claim, be sure to work closely with Florida wrongful death lawyers near you.

  • Medical and Funeral Expenses

    The most commonly claimed and most straightforward to prove compensatory damage are medical and funeral expenses. Injured victims can rack up thousands of dollars in hospital fees only to expire a while later. What many people don’t know is that funeral expenses can also be prohibitively expensive.

    Everything from the casket to the opening and closing of a funeral plot has a price tag attached. According to funeral insurance provider Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage, surviving family members in Florida can expect to shell out an average of $6,500.

Seeking Compensation for a Wrongful Death

No amount of monetary compensation will make up for the loss of a loved one. However, the sudden loss of a family member can result in many physical, mental, and economic challenges for the surviving members.

While any awarded damages won’t bring your loved one back, they will help you cover the medical and funeral expenses related to the victim’s passing. Additionally, it can also help you pay for any rehabilitative care or medical attention that you may need to deal with the trauma of losing a family member. For this reason, you must work with a wrongful death lawyer in Florida to represent you, both in settlement negotiations and court trials. They will work with you to help devise a legal strategy that will help you receive the compensation you deserve.

You and your family deserve to be compensated for the tragedy of losing a family member due to someone else’s negligent actions. As one of the leading wrongful death lawyers in Florida, Shiner Law Group can help you get the compensation you deserve by representing you in settlements and court appearances. Contact us today to start a FREE case evaluation.

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