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When Do I Need to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Losing a loved one is a heartbreaking event and making the necessary arrangements afterwards can feel insurmountable while beginning to process your loss. If someone passes away due to natural causes or an illness, the only thing that can be done is to grieve and honor their memory. However, if someone lost their life due to third party negligence, a surviving family member may be able to bring a lawsuit to seek damages, as well as justice for the person who died. These lawsuits need to be filed in a specific way and in a specific timeframe, and they can be thrown out by the courts if done incorrectly.

What Constitutes Wrongful Death in Florida?

According to Florida Statute, a death can be considered wrongful when it is caused by a “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty.” Put more simply, a death can be considered wrongful when the death is caused by another party’s legal fault. To narrow down this broad definition, here are some specific situations in which a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate:

  • Murder: If someone is murdered, their murderer will be tried in a court of law as a criminal. However, the victim’s loved ones can also bring a separate civil case against the murderer aimed to provide the family with financial damages for the loss of their loved one.
  • Car accidents: A significant number of people die in car crashes annually, and much of the time it happens due to circumstances outside of the driver’s control. In fact, many of these collisions result from another driver’s negligence. When this is the case, the family of the victim can seek damages for the loss of their loved one. Some examples of driver negligence include intoxicated driving, failure to obey traffic laws, driving inappropriately for the road conditions, and driving recklessly.
  • Malpractice: Medical malpractice is one of the most common reasons behind wrongful death suits. If someone dies due to a condition that their doctor failed to diagnose, or if the doctor treated them with negligence and the patient died because of it, the victim’s family can file a suit against the doctor or the healthcare establishment.
  • Defective products: If someone dies as a result of a defect in a product they were using, their loved ones can sue the company on their behalf.

Wrongful death lawsuits differ from criminal cases in that they are filed on behalf of the deceased, and the defendant’s liability is solely expressed through financial damages they will be ordered to pay to the survivors. Wrongful death suits will not result in prison time or fees to the state.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed either by a representative for the deceased person’s estate, a family member, or someone who was named executor of the person’s estate prior to their death. The claim will be filed by the representative on behalf of all surviving family members who are suffering, either emotionally or financially, after the death of their loved one.

The representative, regardless of their relation to the deceased person, has to list all of the deceased person’s family members who may have an interest in the claim. This may include:

  • The deceased person’s widow or widower
  • The deceased person’s children
  • The deceased person’s parents

It is worth noting that minor children, who the law defines as any persons younger than 25, are legally entitled to more compensation than adult children. Other relatives who were dependent on the deceased for financial support may also be eligible, but only after the immediate family has filed their claim.

The damages that family members receive can be specific to their relationship with the deceased person. Each surviving family member who was partially or fully dependent on the deceased person for support can claim the value of the support that was lost, starting from the day the person died. In addition, specific claims can be made, including:

  • Loss of companionship and emotional pain and suffering by the deceased person’s surviving spouse
  • Loss of parental companionship, guidance, and instruction as well as emotional pain and suffering by the deceased person’s minor children
  • Emotional pain and suffering by the deceased person’s parents
  • Funeral and/or medical costs by a surviving family member who paid for them

How Can Wrongful Death Be Proven?

Three specific elements must be proven in order for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful:

  • Duty of care: It must be proven that the defendant owed a duty of care to the person who died. For example, if a passenger died in a car accident where someone else was driving recklessly, the driver would be said to have had a duty of care to drive responsibly and follow driving laws.
  • Breaching the duty of care: For a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, it must be proven that the defendant breached the duty of care they owed to the person who died. In the example above, the driver breached their duty of care when they engaged in reckless driving behaviors.
  • Causation: You must be able to prove that the breach of duty was the reason the person died.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Claims?

In the state of Florida, the statute of limitations on wrongful death claims is two years from the day the person died. However, there is an exception to this rule if the death occurred due to manslaughter or murder, even if no one was convicted for the murder. Claims for such cases can be made at any point.

Will I Need an Attorney?

Anyone filing a wrongful death lawsuit can benefit from the support of an attorney through the process. An attorney can investigate the details of the incident that led to death, collect evidence and testimonies, and develop a strong case to present in court.

In some cases, your attorney may recommend negotiating a settlement out of court This can help get the wrongful death claim taken care of quickly and avoid the stress and emotions of a trial.

Contact Rash Mueller Today

If your loved one died due to the negligence of an individual, healthcare provider, or company, contact Rash Mueller today. With over 25 years of experience litigating wrongful death lawsuits, our team is confident that we can increase your chances of a favorable outcome. We know these cases are emotionally draining and difficult for our clients which is why we work tirelessly on their behalf. Reach out today at (954) 914-7116 or via our contact form.