As personal injury lawyers, wrongful death lawsuits are some of the most difficult cases we handle at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin, both in terms of their emotional impact on families, and the high stakes they create when it comes to helping them secure the justice and compensation they deserve. In these cases, our team focuses on providing the support families deserve during difficult times, as well as the experience-driven representation they need when pursuing positive outcomes.
Over the years, our legal team has helped families throughout West Palm Beach and the state of Florida protect their rights in wrongful death cases involving all types of situations and accidents. While every case entails unique facts and circumstances, they all focus on the general element of seeking justice for a preventable loss of life. Below, our firm provides information about a few key issues involved in Florida wrongful death lawsuits.
1. When wrongful death lawsuits are permitted.
Wrongful death actions are can be brought in situations where an individual or entity caused the preventable death of another, often through negligence or their wrongful and intentional acts. In many ways, wrongful death lawsuits can be pursued in situations where a victim would have been entitled to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault party had they lived, such as in cases involving auto accidents caused by a negligent driver, defective products, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, and more.
2. There are certain elements that must be proven.
As with any civil lawsuit, there are certain elements that must be established in order for plaintiffs to prevail in a wrongful death suit. These include:
- Proving a legal duty existed between the defendant and the victim (i.e. the “duty of care” that requires a medical professional to treat patients in accordance to acceptable medical standards, or which require motorists to safely operate their vehicles).
- Proving the legal duty was breached, which means showing that the defendant failed to meet their duty of care. This breach of duty typically arises from negligence, such as when a motorist causes a fatal accident as a result of speeding or other unsafe driving behaviors, or when a doctor makes an error that any reasonably skillful physician under the same or similar circumstances would have been able to avoid. It may also arise from intentional or wrongful acts, such as an intentional assault or abuse.
- Proving causation, or that the defendant’s failure to meet their duty of care more likely than not resulted in the underlying accident or incident and ultimately the victim’s death.
- Proving damages suffered by victims, which in the case of wrongful death lawsuits can include not only the damages suffered by the decedent themselves (such as the pain and suffering or medical expenses they incurred prior to death) but also the economic and non-economic damages suffered by their family, including the costs of funeral or burial services, lost financial support, lost emotional support and companionship, and more.
3. Only certain parties can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida.
Under Florida’s wrongful death statute, a personal representative must bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent’s estate. The representative may be a surviving family member (such as a spouse, child, parent, or individual financial dependent upon the decedent at the time of their death), someone named in the will of a decedent, or any representative survivors choose to represent the estate.
4. There are time limits in place for filing a lawsuit.
Wrongful death lawsuits are subject to a statute of limitations, which is essentially a time limit beyond which no legal action can be filed. For most cases, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is 2 years from the date a decedent passed away. However, there are some situations where that statute of limitations may be shorter or longer. For example, families may have more time to file suit if they later discover that their loved one’s death was caused by negligence, such as a medical misdiagnosis. They may also have less time if cases involve government entities, such as a city which owned a public bus that caused a fatal bus accident.
5. Any criminal case against a defendant is a separate matter.
There are many situations in which conduct that provides the grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit may also result in criminal charges against the at-fault individual. This is true of cases involving fatal DUI accidents (where a driver can be charged with felony DUI) and other situations where wrongful conduct violated a criminal law. When there are criminal cases against a defendant, they are handled separately in the criminal justice system, focus only on criminal guilt and penalties, and use a higher burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt).
Wrongful death lawsuits, on the other hand, involve claims made in the civil justice system, focus only on civil liability for death, and use a lower burden of proof (a preponderance of the evidence, or “more likely than not”). Because these are separate matters, the outcome of any proceeding will not necessarily affect the other. For example, a defendant can still be held liable in a civil wrongful death lawsuit even if they are found not guilty of committing a crime, or not charged with a crime at all.
Protecting the Rights of Florida Families
Our legal team at Clark, Fountain, La Vista, Prather & Littky-Rubin is committed to protecting the rights of families during some of the most difficult experiences in their lives, and to guiding them step-by-step through the Florida wrongful death process. If you have more questions about wrongful death lawsuits in Florida or would like to discuss a case personally with a member of our firm, please contact us for a free and confidential case evaluation. Our legal team is standing by to help you take the next steps.