If you’ve lost a loved one, the last thing you want to consider is pursuing litigation. Perhaps you feel heartbreak because your loved one’s death was caused by another person’s negligence or wrongful acts. If so, regardless of the accident or action that caused your loved one’s death, you may have a valid lawsuit for wrongful death.
Overview of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit is essentially a personal injury lawsuit where someone else steps in and files a lawsuit on behalf of the injured party (the deceased).
A wrongful death may occur when a loved one dies because of an unlawful act or the negligence of another. A personal representative is the one who files a lawsuit for wrongful death on behalf of the deceased person’s beneficiaries.
Examples of common causes of wrongful death include:
- Motor vehicle accidents,
- Defective vehicles,
- Dangerous roadways, and
- Intentional criminal actions.
A beneficiary may include:
- A surviving spouse, children, or parents;
- Blood relatives;
- Adoptive siblings; and
- Dependents of the deceased.
When a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, a beneficiary may recover funeral and burial expenses and compensation for mental pain and suffering. There are many other avenues to recover compensation, so to find out the full extent of a wrongful death recovery, consult an attorney.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Like any lawsuit, there is a time limit on pursuing it or a “statute of limitations.” A statute of limitations prevents a potential party from threatening someone with a lawsuit indefinitely.
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you must comply with the wrongful death statute of limitations in Florida. In general, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is two years from the date of death. However, in Florida, the wrongful death statute of limitations may be extended to as long as seven years if certain exceptions apply.
If you think your case may fall under an exception to the wrongful death statute under Florida law, reach out to an attorney for more guidance. If you miscalculate the statute of limitations, you may lose all legal rights associated with the lawsuit.
What Are the Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
If certain extenuating circumstances occur, the statute of limitations period can be extended or tolled.
Death of Wrongdoer
There is the possibility that after a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, the wrongdoer dies. If this is the case, a couple of steps must occur to ensure the lawsuit continues.
First, after the death, the wrongdoer’s personal representative must file a “suggestion of death.” After the death is suggested on the record, the plaintiff must file a motion to substitute the personal representative of the wrongdoer’s estate with the original defendant within 90 days. If the plaintiff fails to file this critical document within 90 days, their lawsuit could be forever barred.
Homicide and Murder
A wrongful death lawsuit resulting from murder or manslaughter may be brought at any time—even if the accused has not been arrested, charged, or convicted. The statute of limitations may not begin to run until the individual responsible is identified or apprehended or until after an investigation.
The discovery rule allows a lawsuit to be filed within a certain time frame after the injury is discovered or should have been discovered. In some circumstances, a family member may not be aware that the cause of their loved one’s death was wrongful until after an autopsy or after discovering medical malpractice.
The statute of limitations would start to run when the family discovered the mistake rather than the individual’s date of death. Regardless of the date of discovery, you won’t be able to file a wrongful death claim based on medical malpractice later than four years after the victim’s death.
A Government Entity
To complicate things further, actions against states and governmental entities follow a different process with special filing procedures. A party filing such action must present the claim in writing to the Department of Financial Services within 2 years after the death.
Sometimes, the statute of limitations may be paused or “tolled.”
The statute of limitations may be tolled for the following reasons:
- The plaintiff is a minor under 18,
- The plaintiff is mentally incapacitated,
- The defendant left the state of Florida before filing suit, or
- The defendant is concealing themselves.
In cases where the plaintiff is a minor or mentally incapacitated, the statute of limitations cannot be tolled for more than seven years after the incident.
Let Experienced Florida Wrongful Death Attorneys Help with Your Case
Regarding statutes of limitations, it is necessary to confer with an attorney to determine whether any applicable deadlines or exceptions apply to your circumstances.
With recognition from The National Trial Lawyers for excellence in professionalism, you can have peace of mind that the attorneys at Barrett Nonni Homola & Ferraro will handle your case with compassion. To schedule a consultation with our firm, call (850) 601-1111 or send us an online message.