Comparative Negligence Laws
Even though the ultimate outcome of the accident in question was fatal, it is still possible for the deceased to bear some degree of fault for their own death. While it may seem unfair to apply the doctrine of comparative negligence to a wrongful death claim, it can and does play a significant role in many such cases.
The basic premise of comparative negligence is that a civil defendant may not always 100 percent at fault for an accident, nor is a civil plaintiff always completely blameless for the injuries and losses they suffered. Under the pure comparative negligence system, a court may assign a plaintiff a percentage of fault to represent the ways in which they contributed to causing or exacerbating their own injuries. Then, the court could reduce that plaintiff’s final damage award by whatever percentage of fault they bear.
For example, a person who is T-boned in an intersection by a driver who ran a red light could be found partially to blame for that accident if they were also driving over the speed limit at the time of the collision. Typically, if a court found the claimant to be 20 percent at fault and the defendant in their case to be 80 percent at fault, then the plaintiff would only be able to recover for 80 percent of the total damages at most.
However, this concept can become more complicated to apply and enforce in cases where an accident leads directly to someone’s death. Instead of that 20 percent of fault being taken off a surviving accident victim’s compensation, it would instead result in less restitution for a deceased person’s estate—and perhaps more importantly, their surviving family members and named beneficiaries.
Fortunately, since Florida is a pure comparative negligence state, plaintiffs can still recover at least some compensation even if the decedent was primarily to blame for the accident that led to their death. Working with a skilled lawyer in the area is often the best way to contest allegations of fault in a wrongful death case.
Civil Versus Criminal Actions for Wrongful Death
Accidents borne of negligence are not the only possible grounds that could justify this type of lawsuit. If someone intentionally takes the life of someone else, the surviving family members of the decedent may be able to file civil suit for wrongful death at the same time the defendant is going through criminal proceedings for their actions.
It is important to note that while civil and criminal cases can proceed concurrently for the same incident, they are not related in any way. A finding of civil liability has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of a concurrent criminal case, and a guilty verdict in a criminal case does not guarantee on its own a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in civil court. However, a guilty criminal verdict could be used as evidence supporting the plaintiff’s argument in a connected civil case.
While a criminal conviction for murder, manslaughter, or a similar offense may result in the defendant having to pay a certain amount in fines, none of that money would go to the deceased’s surviving family members or estate. The only way they could recover compensation for their own damages and those of the decedent would be through a separate civil lawsuit.
Statute of Limitations
Those who are considering filing a lawsuit should be aware of the statute of limitations, which is the deadline for filing a lawsuit. In Florida, potential plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim are generally limited to two years from the date of the death in which to file a legal claim, as per Florida Statutes §95.11(4)(d). There are few circumstances under which this statute of limitations can be extended given the nature of this type of case.
However, if someone dies from a medical professional’s negligence, the ensuing case would be bound by the statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice actions. In these kinds of claims, the statutory filing deadline is generally either two years following the date the malpractice occurred, or two years from the date the malpractice was discovered to be the cause of someone’s death. If more than four years elapse after a death due to medical malpractice, the statutory deadline may expire no matter when the negligence in question was discovered.
Additionally, any wrongful death action for which the defendant would be a state or local government entity would have a four-year statutory filing deadline. That being said, various additional limitations and exceptions may shorten this filing period significantly, depending on the circumstances.
Potential plaintiffs who fail to file a claim promptly may lose their right to seek justice and recover any compensation whatsoever from the party responsible for their loved one’s death. Speaking with our attorneys as soon as possible could help ensure that a claim is filed in a timely manner.
Damages in a Florida Wrongful Death Case
Our lawyers in Florida could help survivors or beneficiaries receive compensation for their economic and non-economic losses related to the death. Depending on the circumstances, parties named in the estate of the deceased may be able to recover damages for loss of companionship, lost income, medical expenses in the lead-up to the death, and funeral expenses.
With the exception of cases stemming from medical malpractice, there is no cap on non-punitive damages in the state. However, different damages are available to surviving family members of a deceased individual compared to the decedent’s estate.
According to state law, the damages available to surviving family members typically revolve around the losses they individually suffered as a result of losing their loved one. In addition to medical, travel, and funeral expenses they had to pay because of their loved one’s accident, they may be also to be able to recover for various lost services and forms of support depending on their relationship with the decedent. Some of these may include:
- Loss of emotional support
- Loss of future income and financial support
- Loss of household services
- Loss of companionship and/or protection
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional pain and suffering
The decedent’s estate, on the other hand, may pursue compensation for various financial losses that the estate holder’s death has caused or will likely cause in the future. These may include loss of work earnings between the date of the decedent’s injury and the date of their death, any medical or funeral expenses the decedent paid out of their own estate, and loss of future appreciation of certain assets and financial instruments.
The final verdict for a successful case should state clearly what amounts go to which parties—including both named survivors and the decedent’s estate—for particular damages.
Call a Florida Wrongful Death Attorney
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a complicated, on-going process. After a death caused by a liable party’s negligence, the legal process can be intricate and difficult to understand. Consider reaching out to a Florida wrongful death lawyer at our firm for a free consultation. We can help you understand your legal rights, explain concepts like economic vs. non-economic damages, and walk you through the process of filing a claim. When you are ready, do not hesitate to reach out