When a person dies as a result of another individual or entity’s negligent actions, it is generally considered a wrongful death. For example, a doctor or other healthcare provider cannot be sued if a loved one dies from cancer. In contrast, a negligent act such as medical malpractice or driving while drunk or intentional violence would qualify a death as wrongful.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Case
Under Florida law, the following elements make up a wrongful death case:
- A human being lost their life.
- Their death was caused by another’s negligence or an intent to do harm.
- Surviving family members of the deceased suffered financial losses as a result of the death. (e.g., loss of love, financial support, companionship, physical support, etc.)
Proving a Wrongful Death Claim
To claim compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of surviving family members, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate must prove the following:
- Duty of Care: The at-fault party owed the deceased a duty of care—for example, the duty to drive safely and obey traffic laws.
- Breach of Duty: The at-fault party violated their duty by failing to act with the same level of care that a reasonable person would have shown in a similar situation—for example, a driver who speeds through an intersection with heavy pedestrian traffic or drives while intoxicated.
- Causation: The at-fault party’s breach of their duty of care directly caused the individual’s death.
- Damages: The surviving family suffered losses as a result of their loved one’s death.
Damages In A Wrongful Death Case
Loved ones can be compensated for the following losses:
- The deceased’s pain and suffering before death.
- Medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury before their death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income from the deceased person
- Loss of inheritance
- The value of the services that the deceased person would have provided
- Loss of care, guidance, and nurturing that the deceased person would have provided
- Loss of love and companionship
- Loss of consortium
Evidence of Wrongful Death
Successfully bringing a wrongful death claim can be challenging without an attorney. They will help you gather the necessary evidence to use as grounds for the claim and as proof of the at-fault party’s liability. For example, an attorney will handle:
- Investigating the accident to determine which parties are responsible.
- Obtaining police reports, medical records, photos, and videos, receipts, and other necessary documentation.
- Any available surveillance footage of the accident.
- Interviewing eyewitnesses.
- Hiring various experts to testify in your case. For example, an accident reconstruction expert to help prove fault or a forensic accountant to show how you and your family’s lives have been impacted financially by your loss.
Florida applies the law of comparative negligence in wrongful death cases. This law reduces a surviving family’s compensation by their loved one’s percentage of fault in causing the accident that led to their death. For example, if the personal representative of the deceased’s estate recovers $100,000, but the deceased is found 30% responsible for the accident, the family will only receive 70% of the award, or $70,000. As a result, each wrongful death claim requires strong evidence and a meticulously planned legal strategy to ensure liability falls on the appropriate party.