After the sudden death of a loved one, many families need help understanding the filing process for a wrongful death lawsuit. However, the State of Florida has specific rules regarding who may file on behalf of a surviving family.
Generally speaking, a personal representative of the deceased may bring an action, but the person who fills that role depends on the unique circumstances of the case. Here’s an overview of the requirements for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida.
Defining Wrongful Death
While many wrongful death lawsuits arise from personal injury incidents like car accidents, some stem from criminal acts such as murder or manslaughter. However, in all these scenarios, wrongful death is a civil suit intended to seek compensation for the surviving family members and dependents of the deceased person.
Essentially, wrongful death is a lawsuit over the losses incurred by the family as a result of their loved one’s death. In addition, the claimant in a wrongful death case must show that the wrongful act or negligence of another led to the death.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Under § 768.20 of the Florida Statutes, the only person who may file a wrongful death lawsuit is the personal representative of the deceased.
If the deceased person had a will, this is usually fulfilled by the executor of their will. If there isn’t an executor, the probate court usually appoints a representative. Sometimes, this is an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, or parent.
Even if the executor is a third-party unrelated to the deceased, they must list any surviving family members that have an interest in the lawsuit, such as the deceased’s:
- Children, and
Immediate family members like the ones listed above qualify as primary beneficiaries. This means that they are first parties considered in the lawsuit when it comes to damages.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit If There Aren’t Any Primary Beneficiaries?
If there aren’t any primary beneficiaries available to file, or if there are other dependents who don’t fit into that category, they may still file. Known as secondary beneficiaries, this usually includes other blood relatives, adoptive siblings, and children born out of wedlock.
Damages Plaintiffs May Pursue
The damages in a wrongful death lawsuit vary from case to case. Realistically, it’s impossible to put a price on a human life because loss affects us in different ways. Florida law recognizes this and lists a number of potential damages claimants may seek, including:
- Burial and funerary expenses;
- Loss of support, services, and earnings;
- Loss of companionship and protection for a surviving spouse;
- Loss of guidance and instruction for surviving children; and
- Mental pain and suffering.
When filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s important to identify the future costs to the family as well as the immediate impact of the loss. For example, if the deceased had young children, what future difficulties will they have without their parent’s support? What if the deceased was the sole provider for a stay-at-home spouse?
These details are essential when building a wrongful death case in Florida, but they might be hard to quantify. An experienced attorney can help answer these questions and estimate the costs associated with these losses, both economic and non-economic.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?
One thing for the personal representative to keep in mind when considering a lawsuit is how long they have to file. Florida, much like other states, has a statute of limitations or time limit for filing wrongful death lawsuits. However, that time limit depends on the specifics of the situation.
For wrongful deaths arising from personal injury, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. If the wrongful death occurred due to a murder or other crime, there is no time limit, even if the accused party hasn’t been arrested, charged, or convicted.
When You Should Seek the Help of an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney
While not all claims require legal assistance, there are a few signs that you may benefit from hiring an attorney. For wrongful death, it’s usually best to consult an attorney if the deceased ever divorced, remarried, adopted, or had unrelated parties as dependents. These scenarios are incredibly complex and may not be as straightforward.
If You’ve Lost a Loved One to Another’s Negligence, We’re Here to Help
Losing a loved one is often a traumatic experience for many families. However, it’s even more devastating when it happens due to a negligent person. If you lost a loved one due to the wrongful actions of another, you need an attorney who understands the long-lasting effects of that loss.
At Barrett, Nonni, Homola & Ferraro, we know that nothing can replace the warmth and guidance that those closest to us provide. However, we do believe that families deserve justice when recklessness ends a life so suddenly.