Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Information about Wrongful Death Claims in Florida

Losing a loved one is one of life's most difficult challenges, and it can be even more difficult when that person's death was due to someone else's negligent1 conduct. In these types of cases, the law provides a remedy in the form of a civil wrongful death claim that can be brought by the survivors of the deceased. While these actions are brought by the personal representatives of the deceased on the deceased' behalf, a wrongful death action allows the personal representatives themselves to recover damages for their own losses stemming from the death.

Difference Between Wrongful Death and Murder/Manslaughter

"Wrongful death" can be a confusing term to many people, especially since it seems like any time a person dies by the fault of another that a criminal prosecution is warranted. That is not always the case, however. A civil wrongful death action is different from a criminal action for manslaughter or murder in several key ways.

First, a wrongful death action is brought by the survivors of the deceased against the person or entity that caused the death. Criminal prosecutions are brought by the government on behalf of the victim.

Second, the outcome of a successful wrongful death claim is monetary damages that are paid by the defendant to the deceased's representatives. The outcome of a successful criminal prosecution for manslaughter or murder is jail time (or even capital punishment in extreme cases).

Third, the burden of proof in a wrongful death action is much lower than that of a criminal homicide action. In wrongful death cases, the burden of proof on the plaintiff is a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it must simply be more likely than not that the defendant caused the death of the deceased. The burden of proof on the government in a criminal action is beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the evidence against the defendant must be so persuasive that it leaves very little room for doubt about his or her guilt. Thus, it is much easier for a plaintiff to prevail in a wrongful death action than for the government to obtain a criminal conviction.

Finally, the element of intent is different in civil wrongful death claims and criminal homicide prosecutions. While wrongful death actions are brought because the defendant was negligent in causing the death of the deceased, murder and manslaughter involve levels of culpability that are beyond civil negligence, including criminal negligence, recklessness, knowledge that the defendant's actions will cause death, or even intentional killing.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim

The elements of a wrongful death claim are based in negligence and vary little from state to state. In order to illustrate these elements, let's look at a hypothetical wrongful death lawsuit.

Let's assume that you are driving along in your car one day and that you are approaching an intersection in which you have the green light. Suddenly, another driver who is approaching the intersection from the other street runs his red light, flying into the intersection and smashing into your car, killing you instantly. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the driver had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.16, twice the legal limit in Florida. While the driver is being prosecuted for DWI and manslaughter, your spouse decides

to bring a wrongful death action against the driver. These are the elements he or she must prove in order to prevail:

  • Duty: Your spouse must show that the driver owed you a duty of care when he was operating his vehicle. All drivers owe others the duty of care to safely operate their automobiles as a reasonably prudent person would. Because the defendant was operating a motor vehicle at the time of the accident, he owed you this duty of care.
  • Breach: A breach occurs when the defendant's conduct falls below that required by the duty of care he owes to the plaintiff. In your case, recklessly operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol falls far below the duty the defendant owed you. Therefore, the defendant breached his duty.
  • Causation: Your spouse must also show that the defendant's breach actually caused your death. To do this, he or she must simply show that it was the defendant's vehicle that struck you and not some other vehicle and that the defendant was driving it at the time of the accident. This can be shown through eyewitness statements, security camera footage, and police reports.
  • Damages: Damages are the injuries that you and your dependents suffered as a result of the defendant's breach of duty. In this case, your damages would be your death and all of the attendant financial and emotional strains it placed upon your family.

Wrongful Death Claims in Florida

The state of Florida's wrongful death statute can be found at Chapter 768.162 of the 2016 Florida Statutes. According to the statute, the purpose of the law is to "shift the losses resulting when a wrongful death occurs from the survivors of the decedent to the wrongdoer." Some of the statute's key elements are summarized below.

Right of action: The statute grants a right of action when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of another, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued. In other words, if the victim would have been able to sue the defendant had he or she not died, the defendant's representatives may now sue the defendant for wrongful death. In this way, the statute transfers the decedent's possible personal injury right of action to a wrongful death action for the decedent's representatives.

Who may sue: A wrongful death suit may be brought by the decedent's "representatives," which include the decedent's spouse, children, parents, and any blood relatives or adoptive brothers and sisters who are partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support.

Damages available: Each survivor of the decedent may recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent's injury and any future loss of support. The decedent's spouse may also recover pain and suffering damages, while the decedent's minor children may recover for lost parental companionship. Similarly, if the decedent was a minor, the decedent's parents may recover pain and suffering. Any survivor may also recover funeral expenses and any medical costs that were incurred prior to the decedent's death.

Contact a St. Petersburg Wrongful Death Attorney

If a loved one has been killed by someone else's negligent behavior, you may have a wrongful death claim. Please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-222-6922.

Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(727) 222-6922


No comments:

Post a Comment