What is a Wrongful Death?Posted on: March 1, 2021
The concept of “Wrongful Death” goes back about 175 years to the British Fatal Accidents Act of 1846. Prior to that time, the dependents of anyone who suffered an accidental fatality were stuck not only with the loss of a loved one, but without the compensation that person provided to the family. The law was created to assist those members of society weakened by human loss. And since that time, the term wrongful death has been applied to those left behind by someone whose life could have been spared if not for the wrongdoing of another individual or company.
The loss of a loved one, whether expected or otherwise, can have lasting impacts on those of us who were closest to them. And if that sudden loss is the result of an accident, caused by someone else’s negligence, families and spouses and children may sometimes go through months and years of counseling and therapy, learning to cope. Just getting through the toughest first weeks, with the help of a professional, is a cost that can be compensated. The legal term for this kind of pain and suffering is called mental anguish.
Mental anguish can include feelings of fright, nervousness, worry, grief, and any other type of emotional trauma a victim can face after a devastating accident.
The 2016 Florida Statutes has this to say about the right of dependents to seek action:
When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued, the person or watercraft that would have been liable in damages if death had not ensued shall be liable for damages as specified in this act notwithstanding the death of the person injured, although death was caused under circumstances constituting a felony.
How to Determine Wrongful Death
Wrongful death suits are so rarely, if ever, about vengeance or payback or even the bitterest of feelings. In most of these cases, the issue is compensation for loss, the kind of loss that could have been avoided. Take the case of Winco Powerline Services as an example, a helicopter company out of Aurora, Oregon.
In 2017, two workers were suspended from one of the company’s helicopters, dangling over power lines in Louisiana, but the rope they were hanging from broke when it rubbed up against another “high-tension” line in the area. Families of the two men believed they had a case and the court just awarded them $14.6 million, reasoning that both men were in their twenties and would have had lengthy careers along with steady incomes for decades to come. Attorneys argued that a better, stronger line, along with a spotter and a co-pilot would have been sufficient to save both men.
Proving Wrongful Death
The experience of losing a loved one is almost always beyond words. There is no true consolation, especially when that loved one is a spouse, a parent, a child, or a sibling. What hurts even more is when that death appears to have been avoidable, should one or more things have been done differently. A wrongful death suit is basically a documented claim that there was either negligence or misconduct on the part of someone personally or an organization corporately. But how do you prove it? How do you prove that someone was negligent? Or that there was actual misconduct?
The most thorough legal answer is more intricate than a single blog post, but here are a few things that would be taken into consideration:
- Did the defendant (the person you wish to sue) owe your loved one a duty of care? In other words, did they have any responsibilities they were obligated to uphold? And can those responsibilities be proven?
- Did the defendant fail to uphold their responsibilities? In other words, were they negligent of their proven duty of care? And can their failure be proven?
- Is there a evident link between the duties themselves, the failure to uphold those duties, and the subsequent death of your loved one? In other words, proving that they had responsibilities and/or failed to uphold those responsibilities does not constitute a win by itself. There must also be a causal connection between their failures and the claim of wrongful death.
Statute of Limitations on Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
Most of the time after an accident, or after face the death of a family member, we hesitate from taking action against those who may have been at fault in causing whatever led us to harm. We hesitate because we believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, because human beings are less vengeful than the movies may suggest we are. But over time, the injuries that stem from those accidents, or the impact of lost income from a death, leads us to ask a legitimate question. Why am I, or why are we, struggling to recover financially for something that we did not cause?
It’s in those times that many people reach out for an attorney, for someone who can help them piece their lives back together, not necessarily because of any ill will, but because financial hardship that results from someone else’s negligence needs to accountability, and compensation.
So what, then, is the statute of limitations on filing a claim of wrongful death, or filing any claim of negligence in the State of Florida? How long do I have to file?
The law says four years. And whether that seems like a long time or a short time, there are rarely any exceptions beyond that point to file suit.
Can You File a Wrongful Death Claim?
At the time of a loved one’s death, the thought of blame usually takes backseat to mourning, and processing, and figuring out how to get on with life in their absence. And as we begin to make sense of that loss, sometimes we play back conversations and observations, wondering if it may be possible that this death could have been avoided, that maybe this death was caused by someone else’s negligence, be it person or a company. Then the question becomes, who may speak up on behalf of a loss, to file a claim of wrongful death?
According to Florida State Statutes, the only persons who may file a claim of wrongful death are spouses, children, or parents of the deceased. Other exceptions may include blood relatives or adoptive siblings who are dependents of the individual lost.
But what of a girlfriend, or a fiance, or a lifelong friend? This question was posed before a Florida attorney last year, when a non-blood, non-married loved one asked to be heard with regards to her concerns about a 24-year boyfriend who died in a hospital she believed may have been negligent. In her case, the conversation prompted red flags for the attorney, a mention of Florida’s so-called “free kill” exemption.
In the case of unexpected loss, when tragedy takes the life of someone we love, any immediate, serious conversation about cause and responsibility takes a backseat to grievance. Then, over the weeks that pass, as we seek some kind of closure, questions arise about the many circumstances pertaining to our loss. Should there be reason to believe that the person you love could have survived, but died as the result of someone’s carelessness or inaction, are you allowed to make a case?
Recently, a Florida appeals court ruled that a woman could not seek damages in the death of her husband because the alleged cause of his death was related to a period before they were married. That line in the sand makes it abundantly clear that your relationship to the deceased is crucial to a successful case. In other words, Florida follows a pretty tight legal standard, allowing only spouses (in most cases), children, parents, and other dependents to seek damages in the event of a wrongful death.
If someone you know or love has been the victim of wrongful death, please contact the law offices of Beers and Gordon P.A. for a free consultation. Our firm serves all of Seminole, Orange, Volusia, Lake, and Brevard counties, including Oviedo, Winter Springs, Altamonte Springs, Sanford, Longwood, Winter Park, Lake Mary, and Greater Orlando. Our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience ready and willing to go the distance on your case. Call us right away at 407-862-1825.