If you have lost a loved one due to wrongful death, then we understand that the next days, weeks, and months will be extremely overwhelming and upsetting for you and the other surviving family members and loved ones. At the same time, you will likely begin to think about your legal options so that you can seek fair compensation from the responsible party since their reckless, negligent, or malicious behavior is the cause of the death. You have every right to seek maximum compensation from this party, whether through an out-of-court settlement or a full lawsuit and trial in the Florida courts, and regardless of the avenue that your case takes, you should expect that this process will be complicated and frustrating. This is why hiring a personal injury attorney is one of the most important steps that you can take in the early days following your loss, which we will explain in a section of this blog post.
One of the things that many people want to know the answer to at the start of our work together, or even during our free initial consultation, is the amount that their case is worth, or what the average settlement amount is for wrongful death cases in Florida. The problem with these questions, particularly the question of average settlement amounts, is that no two cases are alike, and the final figure for your situation depends on innumerable variables that we will need to explore in great detail in order to determine how much you are entitled to. We do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to any of our cases, and your wrongful death lawsuit will require in-depth investigation and calculations in order to determine how much you are entitled to for your specific situation. We understand that this is not the easy answer many people hope for during this difficult time, but you can rest assured that we will be working tirelessly to understand the amount that we should be fighting for.
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The following blog post is meant to provide you with a general sense of how wrongful death lawsuits are calculated, all of which will give you information to consider regarding your own situation. However, none of the figures that are mentioned here will play any role in the amount that your own settlement or award is ultimately worth since your situation is entirely unique and depends on things like the number of dependents left behind the financial support provided by the deceased, and much more.
Our initial consultation will not result in a complete understanding of how much your case is worth, either. In order for our firm to reach a final calculation that we will then use as our basis for negotiations or the amount sought in our filing, we will need to spend weeks or more doing research into your finances, the economic impact that the deceased had on your life, and much more. The sooner we begin our work together, the sooner you will have clear answers about your situation, and we will be able to develop a roadmap towards recovering the compensation that you and your family rightfully deserve after this tragic and avoidable loss.
Proving Liability For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida
The terms “liability” and “guilt” are sometimes used interchangeably, and while they ultimately seek to prove the same thing, one is a civil law term, and the other is a criminal law term. In the case of a wrongful death lawsuit, we will be seeking to prove that the defendant acted with negligence or misconduct, and this misconduct ultimately led to the wrongful death of your loved one. This oftentimes comes in the wake of a criminal case for the same instance, but the two cases are independent of each other, and there is a much lower bar to clear in order to prove liability in a civil case than there is to prove guilt in a criminal case.
In fact, it is not unheard of for a defendant to be found “not guilty” in a criminal case, and still found liable in civil court. One of the most well-known instances of this happening is in the 1995 case of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Simpson was found “not guilty” in the criminal case but was still required to pay monetary damages in a civil case that followed.
The fact of the matter is that criminal courts must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” in front of a jury that the defendant committed a crime. If there is not clear enough evidence of this fact, even if it appears to be obvious that they did commit the crime, then the jury is likely to acquit. In order to prove a civil case, the bar is much lower with the type of evidence that can be used to prove negligence, recklessness, or misconduct. However, it is more common that the defendant is found guilty in the criminal case, and therefore proving and establishing fault and liability in the civil case is far easier. Regardless of your own situation, we will fight to ensure that you are not financially liable for the damages caused by someone else’s deadly behaviors.
Calculating Damages For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida
Of course, the most central question to the work that you will be doing with a personal injury and wrongful death attorney is that of compensation: how much are you owed, and how will we go about recovering that compensation from the responsible party. The following subsections of damages are meant to give you a general idea of the types of impacts that are included in each, but will ultimately go much further and will vary depending on your own situation. Florida Statute § 768.21 sets out a range of damages that survivors can seek following the wrongful death of a loved one.
Economic damages are the basis of your wrongful death lawsuit and seek compensation for measurable financial impacts of the death. They include things like any and all medical bills incurred for treatment following the accident, as well as any additional care costs if the deceased received care following the accident. In addition to medical bills, they will also include your funerary and after-death costs that will be compiled using financial statements, invoices, receipts, and bills. These economic damages are fairly straightforward to calculate, question typically will not be aggressively contested by the insurance company or defendant once the matter of fault has been established. However, there are additional economic damages that you will receive pushback from, although you have every right to recover them and we will fight to ensure that you get what you deserve.
In addition to these economic damages, we will need to do extensive work calculating the loss of financial support that the surviving dependents deserve compensation for. This will account for all income- and asset-based losses, including base income as well as things like 401k and IRA contributions, healthcare, and other long-term contributions that the deceased will no longer be contributing to. Depending on the age of the dependents and of the deceased, the terms of the compensation will vary because the calculations are based on life expectancy and lifetime potential earnings. If, for example, a 35-year old was killed in a drunk driving accident, the earnings-based losses would be greater than if the victim was retired or had fewer years left before retirement age. The age of the dependents will also impact the terms of the compensation because children under the age of 18 are dependent almost solely on their parents to provide financial support for them.
There are many other factors that we will go through with you during our initial consultation to get a better sense of your familial arrangements, the number of dependents and their ages, and more. As you can imagine, ensuring that we include all economic damage calculations in your case – with ample supporting evidence to back our claims – is an ongoing and in-depth process that will require a lot of work on behalf of our legal team, which we will be able to do while you focus on healing with your family after this tragic situation.
Non-economic damages the other half of the compensatory damages that will be central to your wrongful death claim, and while they are equally important, they are much different in nature. Whereas economic damages seek compensation for measurable financial losses, non-economic damages seek compensation for impacts that are not financial in nature, such as emotional distress. However, calculating something as abstract as emotional distress comes with its own complications, and the defendant is much more inclined to push back on damages that do not have tangible proof and calculations. We will fight to make sure that your non-economic damages are given as much attention and importance as your economic damages.
Non-economic damages include all of the emotional sufferings that the defendants experience after losing a loved one in wrongful death. The pain of loss, the trauma, loss of companionship, and more are very real impacts of such a significant loss, and non-economic damages provide the surviving defendants with a way to recover financial compensation for these impacts. There is no damage cap in Florida for non-economic damages, meaning that we will be able to seek compensation to the full extent of the impacts you have endured.
There are a number of ways that we can calculate non-economic damages, including one method known as the multiplier method. Using this method, we will account for all of the non-economic damages that you and the rest of the claimants have suffered and will place it along a scale indicating the severity of these damages. Once a fair and reasonable multiple has been selected, it will be applied to the total economic damages in order to reach a final amount for your non-economic damages. For example, a multiple of 3 with economic damages of $100,000 will result in $400,000 total – $100,000 economic, and $300,000 non-economic.
In some instances, a judge or jury may award additional punitive damages to the claimants. These damages are meant to punish the responsible party for their particularly reckless or negligent behavior – both to act as a deterrent for future similar behavior, and to send a clear message to all others who may act in a similar manner. Your legal team is not able to request punitive damages, and so these amounts will never be included in calculations for the final amount that you deserve. We may, however, choose to skip direct negotiations and go straight to the Florida courts if we suspect that your case warrants these damages.
Collecting Damages From a Defendant
The final variable when it comes to actual compensation following wrongful death is the financial situation of the defendant. For instance, if the defendant is a massive corporation who failed to disclose a hazard or defect in a product, then they will have a much better ability to pay the final award. However, if the defendant is an individual who killed your loved one in a drunk driving accident, but they have no assets at all, then the amount of the award is nothing more than symbolic since you will not be able to collect from someone with nothing to give. There may be ways that you can receive payments from their garnished wages, but if they are convicted of a crime and will have to spend a substantial time in prison as a result, this may also be an issue.
In order to get an understanding of your situation and learn about how we can help you make sense of these complicated times, contact our law firm as soon as possible. We pride ourselves on handling these types of cases with discretion and compassion, and we understand that this experience is extremely difficult for you and the rest of the survivors left trying to move forward with your lives after a tragic loss. While we know that no amount of money will undo the damage, we look forward to helping you in the ways that we can.