When someone dies as a result of another’s negligence (where “another” may refer to either an individual or an institution), the surviving members of the family have the right to file a wrongful death suit. Similar to medical malpractice, these suits try to obtain compensation for items such as lost wages, funeral expenses, and the most difficult to define category – pain and suffering.
A Florida wrongful death case recently made national news when the family of Navy Yard shooting victim Mary Frances DeLorenzo Knight refiled their wrongful death suit with a Florida court after a similar federal lawsuit was dismissed last year. The lawsuit cites negligence on the parts of both the U.S. Government and the contractors who employed the shooter, Aaron Alexis. According to the suit, both parties were aware of Alexis’ mental instability but failed to report and respond to the numerous warning signs.
Wrongful death claims can range from car accidents to product recalls to medical malpractice cases. Effectively, any type of fatal accident with suspected negligence or intentional misconduct can form the basis of a wrongful death claim. Again, acting negligently means failing to act or respond in the way a “reasonable” person would, whether its a decision made or an act carried out.
According to the Florida Wrongful Death Act, survivors of the decedent have a two-year window from the time of death in order to file a wrongful death suit. Florida law also places limits on those who can sue for wrongful death. For instance, living spouses, parents and children under 25 are the only individuals who may sue for both tangible and intangible losses (also known as economic and non-economic).
Economic losses may include future earnings, lost services and support. Non-economic, intangible losses include pain and suffering and loss of companionship. Siblings and blood relatives who were dependent on the victim but not “immediate family” may also file a claim to recover damages for lost support.
Another important aspect of Florida law is that only a designated representative of the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death case against the defendant. The representative must also differentiate between which damages are awarded to the survivors (such as lost support, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, parental loss) and which are awarded to the estate (lost earnings, medical expenses, future earnings or net accumulations). Finally, if there is enough substantial evidence, the representative may also try to recover punitive damages for intentional wrongdoing.
Ultimately, few events are more troubling than losing a loved one, especially when the death may have been preventable. If you suspect wrongdoing, please contact an experienced attorney who can help you recover the just emotional and economic damages you deserve.