The damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death case include economic damages, such as medical costs, funeral costs, the loss of the decedent’s financial contributions, and non-economic damages that can consist of compensation for grief and the loss of companionship. In some cases, punitive damages can be recovered, as well.
Wrongful death lawsuits are filed by the surviving family members of a person who suffered death because of another individual's negligence or reckless behavior. Although monetary awards cannot compensate for the loss of human life, the court tries to establish an amount to compensate the family for their tragic loss.
There are several factors considered when establishing compensation. The idea is to compensate the family for economic and non-economic losses. Besides these, plaintiffs of a wrongful death lawsuit can also benefit from punitive damages, awarded if the defendant's behavior was considered extremely negligent or outrageous.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action initiated by the surviving family members of an individual who died because of another person's negligence or wrongful act. Such events include deaths caused by:
A wrongful death lawsuit is different from criminal charges. While both handle the death of a person, wrongful death cases are settled in a civil court, while criminal courts handle homicide charges.
The victim's surviving family members file wrongful death lawsuits to recover monetary damages while the state files criminal charges and seeks a prison sentence.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff can win the case by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is liable, while in a criminal trial, the proof has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant can face both criminal and civil charges for the same crime.
If a wrongful death lawsuit occurs first, a defendant may use the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination as the state can later prosecute him and use his statement against him. However, if the criminal case occurs first and the defendant is found not guilty by lack of evidence, the family can still file a wrongful death lawsuit and possibly win it, as it only requires a minimum of 51% of proof for liability.
Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, wrongful death lawsuits are filed by surviving relatives or beneficiaries of a deceased if the death occurred due to negligence, reckless behavior, or unlawful acts.
Generally speaking, surviving family members can initiate a wrongful death legal action, but state law establishes the exact list of potential plaintiffs. In Florida, the list of individuals entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit is established in the Florida Wrongful Death Act. The right is awarded to:
The victim's family can theoretically sue any person or entity responsible for the wrongful death of their loved one, although some states prevent family members from suing each other for the passing of a third family member.
Although they will benefit from the monetary compensation, the actual legal process must be initiated by the personal representative of the deceased.
A personal representative is a relative or a friend named in the deceased person's will. In case there is no will available, the court will usually offer this right to the surviving spouse. If the deceased was not married, the personal representative is chosen from his heirs.
Once the personal representative has been selected, they can initiate legal action on behalf of the other beneficiaries. A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years after the fatal accident. However, if the responsible party is a government entity, the statute of limitations is much shorter, usually only six months.
Wrongful death lawsuits are filed in civil courts. If the statute of limitation is not exceeded, the personal representative can choose to file the lawsuit after the defendant has been found not guilty by a criminal court for murder charges. As the standards of proof are different in criminal and civil courts, proving a wrongful death allegation is often easier than winning a criminal lawsuit for murder charges.
When establishing the economic damages, plaintiffs need a highly skilled and experienced lawyer on their side, who can present the family's financial loss on verifiable data with the support of expert witnesses. Economic damages cover various types of financial losses the family suffered due to the wrongful death of one of its members.
Economic losses include the costs of medical treatment, and funeral costs resulted from the wrongful death.
More complex calculations are necessary to establish the amount of money the victim would have provided for his family in everyday life. The court will take into consideration the following:
Non-economic damages are designed to cover for the loss of:
Establishing a monetary amount for emotional suffering is especially challenging. It requires a highly experienced lawyer to express the desolation, the emotional stress, the pain and suffering, and the inconvenience the family had to go through because of the wrongful death.
The most critical element in obtaining a high amount of non-economic award is to have a lawyer who can make a solid case for all the suffering experienced by the family as a result of the wrongful death. If you require legal assistance in a wrongful death case, contact our Miami-based office today.