Life is a fragile thing. Sometimes personal injury leads to the worst outcome of all. We’re all mortal. We all must pass away some time. Usually, the circumstances are natural and normal. Sometimes, however, a fatality is due to the wrongful or negligent act of another person. In such cases, the law may allow a personal representative of the deceased to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim could have filed a personal injury claim had he/she survived, the door is open to a wrongful death claim. This includes deaths resulting from acts that were felonies.
WRONGFUL DEATH VS. CRIMINAL HOMICIDE
However, wrongful death is a civil suit. It’s not a criminal complaint. That is, charges for criminal acts like murder are brought by the state. A guilty verdict can result in a prison sentence or the death penalty. In contrast, a win for the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit can lead to the recovery of financial damages only. These are payable to the victim’s estate and to surviving family. To be sure, the personal representative of a murder victim can file a wrongful death suit. In fact, a plaintiff can win such a suit even if the defendant’s criminal trial doesn’t reach a guilty verdict.
As has been noted, it’s the personal representative of the victim’s estate that has to file a wrongful death suit. Wills and estate plans often name a personal representative. When this is not the case, the court appoints one. The personal representative then files suit on behalf of the victim’s estate, and on behalf of the surviving family members.
Florida law has rules for the kinds of damages the court can award in a wrongful death suit. The estate of the deceased can collect damages for three kinds of economic losses:
- medical and funeral expenses that the estate had paid directly
- the wages and benefits the deceased would have earned had he/she lived
- “lost prospective accumulations”, or all other earnings the estate would have collected had the victim survived
Moreover, the law also provides four types of damages for surviving family members:
- the value of the support the victim had been providing to the survivor(s)
- any final expenses paid by a family member
- loss of companionship, guidance, and protection provided by the deceased person, and
- mental and emotional pain and suffering due to the loss of a child
These are the broad outlines of wrongful death lawsuits. There are, however, catches and twists. Some relate to children as victims. Others relate to children as beneficiaries of damages awards. The statute of limitations for filing suit is usually 2 years. It’s a heart-wrenching step. It’s critical to recruit an experienced Boca Raton wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after such a tragedy.