Our medical malpractice attorneys do everything we can to keep you out of the Hillsborough County courts. However, if we believe you will receive a much larger settlement in trial, our medical malpractice lawyers don’t back down. You want us on your side in the courtroom.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
When somebody dies because of a wrongful act, an act of negligence, or a breach of a contract — and that event would have entitled the injured person to sue in court if they were still alive — then there is a potential wrongful death case.
A wrongful death is when somebody dies because of the fault of another person or business.
Both intentional and unintentional acts can result in wrongful death claims.
The estate and immediate family members such as spouses, children, and parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Examples of Wrongful Death Cases
Common types of wrongful death cases include:
Car accidents: car accident cases are the most common type of wrongful death cases. There are thousands of fatalities each year just in Florida. Most of these fatalities are the result of another driver’s negligence. Think speeding, reckless driving, or otherwise not paying attention to the road. Driving under the influence and texting while driving are other examples of car accident cases that can result in the filing of a wrongful death case.
Truck accidents: semi-trucks and big rigs are legitimate death machines. The size and power of these vehicles cause hundreds of fatalities in Florida each year.
Medical malpractice: medical malpractice is the failure to diagnose a condition, misdiagnosis of a condition, and surgical errors. Acts of medical malpractice are common causes of wrongful death.
Defective products: product liability cases can also lead to wrongful death cases if someone dies as a result of the failed product. Also, the number of product liability cases — especially those involving opioid painkillers — has been increasing recently.
Pedestrian accidents: pedestrians are no match for automobiles and trucks. Pedestrian accidents make up a high percentage of wrongful death cases in Florida.
Aviation accidents: while traveling in the air is relatively safe, the number of people we see on airlines can result in large numbers of fatalities from aviation accidents. Airlines and/or airplane manufacturers are liable when there are mechanical issues with an airplane or pilot errors while flying.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
While wrongful death cases have a statute that controls them, wrongful death cases are often negligence claims.
As such, you must prove specific things to prevail in court. The things that must be proven in wrongful death cases are also called the elements of a claim. This includes proving duty, breach of the duty, causation, and damages.
Duty: all wrongful death negligence claims must have a defendant who owed some sort of duty to the deceased.
For example, in a car accident wrongful death, the person who caused the accident had a duty to the deceased to drive safely.
A doctor has a duty to provide the same care to his/her patients that another doctor would be expected to provide.
Breach of Duty: the defendant must have breached whatever duty is owed. For example, a car accident defendant breached their duty to the deceased when they failed to drive in a reasonable matter and caused a fatal accident.
Causation: that breach of duty must be responsible for the harm suffered. In wrongful death cases, that simply means the breach of duty caused death.
Damages: the plaintiff needs to have actually suffered some damages. In a wrongful death, that’s kind of obvious — somebody has died!
Beware of the Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
After the death of a loved one, people don’t want to even think about filing some sort of legal action. The family members who have survived need time to grieve the passing of someone they love dearly. This is their moral right. However, it’s important to note that Florida has a statute of limitations — a timeline for the filing of a wrongful death suit.
Negligence claims related to wrongful death have a strict statute of limitations — two years from the date the person died.
However, intentional wrongful deaths like homicides do not have a statute of limitations.
Who Can Sue for the Wrongful Death of a Loved One?
The personal representative of a person’s estate can file a wrongful death suit. Who is the personal representative? This is determined by someone’s will or a similar estate plan. Without a will or other type of estate plan, then there is a statutory flow that defines who the personal representative will be.
Lawsuits are filed on behalf of the estate of the deceased and on behalf of that person’s surviving family members. Next, let’s discuss which family members are allowed to recover financial damages in a wrongful death case.
How Much Can You Sue for in Wrongful Death?
Florida’s wrongful death laws define what you can sue for in a wrongful death claim.
Surviving spouse: a surviving spouse can recover damages for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and for mental pain and suffering.
Children: minor children can seek compensation for losing their parent. This is compensation for losing the deceased parent’s advice, companionship, direction, care, and guidance.
Parents: parents of deceased minor children can sue for compensation for the mental pain and suffering they have over the loss of their child. If an adult has no children when he/she dies, then his/her parents can recover compensation for their mental pain and suffering.
All: any survivor can sue for lost support and services from the date of their loved one’s death.
This includes the loss of future support, related medical expenses, funeral expenses, and the like.
In certain cases, the court can also impose punitive damages. Punitive damages come into play when a defendant’s intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent actions caused the wrongful death.
Punitive damages are a unique form of damages, because their sole purpose is to punish the party responsible for the wrongful death. Every other type of damage that we talked about is to compensate injured victims.