Wrongful Death: Recovering for the Surviving Family
In the wake of a traumatic and deeply painful loss of a loved one, the thought of becoming embroiled in litigation can seem overwhelming. You aren’t thinking clearly to start, and just imagining the time and effort such a claim requires is distressing.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we fully commit ourselves to each wrongful death case we accept. We understand families are not only grieving, but are suffering financial and other personal losses as well. That’s why we charge nothing until the conclusion of the case, and only then if we win.
While no attorney can promise success, this is how confident we are in our ability to obtain compensation and relief to families who seek our help.
Some feel it seems crass to talk about accepting a monetary “award” for the death of someone they loved so dearly. But first, in wrongful death cases, the money “awarded” to the plaintiff is actually referred to as “damages.” That’s because the death of your loved one has left you and your family damaged – not just emotionally, but financially too. Maybe you and your spouse were building a life together or had just set out to enjoy retirement. Maybe the injury and subsequent death of your child has rendered you deeply depressed and unable to work. Perhaps there are minor children involved who depended on the financial support of a parent who is no longer here to provide. These cases are about restoring families to the greatest extent possible.Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case?
The Florida Wrongful Death Act, as codified in F.S. 768.16-26, allows for a personal representative to pursue a lawsuit against negligent parties and insurers on behalf of certain survivors.
In this context, “survivor” can mean the decedent’s spouse, children, parents and, when partially or wholly dependent on decedent for support or services, other blood relatives, as well as adoptive brothers and sisters. It can also mean children born out of wedlock as well. The law defines “minor children” as those under the age of 25. “Support” is not just money, but contributions in kind. “Services” usually refers to tasks of a household nature routinely performed by decedent prior to death.
These actions must be brought by a personal representative of the estate, which has to be established before the case can be filed.Damages in Wrongful Death Litigation
The exact amount of damages recoverable to surviving family members is going to depend on a host of factors, including the type of negligence involved and whether defendants had viable insurance policies.
In general, there are three basic types of damages that may be available to survivors in a wrongful death case. Those are economic, non-economic and punitive. The first two are common, while the third is relatively rare except in the most egregious circumstances.
Economic damages refers to actual monetary losses as a result of decedent’s injury/subsequent death, as well as estimated value of contributions decedent would have made to survivors had he or she lived. These would include:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of decedent’s estimated future earnings
- Loss of medical or retirement benefits
- Loss of inheritance
- Value of goods and services decedent would have provided
Non-economic damages are those less tangible. Often, these are considered to have more value than the actual economic losses. A few examples would be those sought for:
- Mental anguish, pain and suffering
- Loss of care, guidance, protection and nurturing from decedent
- Loss of companionship, love and society from decedent
- Loss of consortium from a spouse
Punitive damages are awarded not so much to benefit survivors as to punish defendant. In Florida, punitive damages are not recoverable against most government agencies or agents. They are tough to secure against other defendants as well. A judge will decide on a case-by-case basis prior to trial whether pursuit of punitive damages is appropriate. In order to make the case for punitive damages, trial lawyers have to show by greater weight of the evidence defendant was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. In the event punitive damages are allowed, plaintiffs have the potential to be compensated for treble (triple) damages.
Contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation