A wrongful death claim is a civil action brought by the survivors of a person who was killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another person. Wrongful death claims are separate and distinct from criminal murder or manslaughter prosecutions, although they arise out of the same events. A few of the key differences are:
- A wrongful death claim is brought by the personal representatives of the deceased, while a criminal prosecution is brought by the government
- The remedy in a wrongful death claim is monetary damages, while the remedy in a criminal case is punishment for the offender--either through jail, probation, or fines
- The burden of proof in a civil wrongful death action is a preponderance of the evidence, while in a criminal case it is beyond a reasonable doubt; preponderance of the evidence is a much lower standard to prove than beyond a reasonable doubt
Wrongful Death in Florida
Florida’s wrongful death statute is codified at Section 768.161 of the Florida Statutes (known as the “Florida Wrongful Death Act), and reads:
When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued, the person or watercraft that would have been liable in damages if death had not ensued shall be liable for damages as specified in this act notwithstanding the death of the person injured, although death was caused under circumstances constituting a felony.
In other words, the survivors of a deceased person have standing to sue if the deceased person would have had standing to sue. Thus, if there is an accident caused by the negligence of another person and the plaintiff died as a result of that negligence, the plaintiff’s survivors may assume the plaintiff’s cause of action against the defendant. Of course, this standing is not without limits. The only survivors of the deceased who have standing to sue are the person’s spouse, children, parents, or any blood relative who is partly or wholly dependent on the deceased person for support. The suit must also be brought within four years of the date of death, unless the statute of limitations can be tolled (postponed) for any reason.
Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death
- Vehicle Accidents – Vehicle accidents are one of the most common cause of wrongful death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2 that there were 30,800 deaths resulting from automobile accidents in the US in 2012. Most of these accidents were caused by drivers who were distracted, fatigued, or intoxicated.
- Pedestrian Accidents – Pedestrians are often severely injured or killed when they are struck by vehicles, especially children and the elderly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 3 that 4,735 pedestrians were killed in the US in 2013. Most of these deaths were caused by reckless drivers or generally unsafe pedestrian conditions.
- Workplace Accidents – The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 4 4,386 workplace deaths in 2014. The leading causes of workplace death are falls, electrocution, being struck by an object, or being caught in or between moving machinery.
- Medical Malpractice – Medical malpractice results in a significant number of deaths each year, with researchers at Johns Hopkins claiming it is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Contact a St. Petersburg, FL Wrongful Death Lawyer
If a loved one has died and you suspect that you may have a wrongful death claim, you should have your case reviewed by an attorney immediately. To schedule a free consultation with one of the lawyers at the , call our office today at 727-222-6922 or online.