What am I entitled to if my loved one suffers a wrongful death?
If your loved one dies due to the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. There are three main elements of damages when dealing with a wrongful death case: (1) economic losses; (2) mental and emotional pain and suffering; and (3) Loss of companionship.
Economic losses are financial losses to the survivor or the estate due to the wrongful death. The purpose of awarding economic losses is to shift the burden of the wrongful death from the survivors of the estate to the wrongdoer. According to the statute, “each survivor may recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury to her or his death, with interest, and future lost support and services from the date of death and reduced to present value.” The Wrongful Death act recognizes that when we are alive, we provide support and services to the people we love and that support and services have a financial value. For instance, if the deceased mother was a stay-at-home Mom and took care of the child day in and day out, the value of those services must be included in the wrongful death case.
We hire experts to determine how much it would cost to have similar services provided by a professional. Of course, you can never replace a mother’s love with professional help, but the statute requires us to replace the value of those services to the greatest extent possible with monetary damages. As a wrongful death lawyer, I ask my expert to identify how much it would cost to hire a professional to perform the duties of a Mom to the greatest extent possible. I also argue to the insurance carrier and ultimately the jury that the cost of hiring a professional is a tiny fraction of the actual value of the support provided by the Mom because the loving support of a mother can never be replaced.
Other economic losses include medical and funeral expenses of the decedent, loss of money the decedent would have earned between the date of the injury and the date of death, and the loss of net accumulations of the estate. Medical and funeral expenses are relatively easy to calculate. So is the loss of money the decedent would have earned until the time of death. However, loss of net accumulations is more complicated. You have to calculate how much the decedent would have earned over their lifetime, then subtract how much they would have spent.
In a situation where the decedent would have spent money on the survivor, that amount would be calculated in the loss of support and services. The loss of net accumulations is an estimate of how much net worth the deceased person would likely have accumulated before dying if they had lived a full life uninterrupted by the wrongdoer’s negligence. This calculation requires the work of an expert economist. As a wrongful death attorney, I like to hire my economist early on in the case and present them to the defendant because the earlier you can establish the damages, the more likely you are to settle the case without having to go to a jury trial.
“The surviving spouse may also recover for loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection and mental pain and suffering from the date of the injury.” “Minor children of the decedent, and all children of the decedent if there is no surviving spouse, may also recover for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.” “Each parent of a deceased minor child may also recover for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Each parent of an adult child may also recover for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.”
The fact that the survivors are entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering from “the date of injury” can be important because, in some cases, the decedent doesn’t die right away, and the family’s struggles while the decedent is still alive can be genuine. In my very first wrongful death case, my client’s father was run over by a truck and suffered a degloving injury, basically skinning him alive. He survived in the hospital for almost two months while my client, his daughter, suffered. My client was entitled to compensation for all her suffering, knowing her father was fighting for his life in such a horrible condition. We got full and fair compensation for my client, who remains a good friend of mine to this day.
Interestingly, parents are entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering but are not entitled to compensation for lost companionship. Also, as an unjust wrinkle in the wrongful death statute, adult children and parents of an adult child are not entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering or lost companionship in situations involving medical malpractice. So, suppose a doctor negligently kills somebody who is unmarried and has no minor children. In that case, the adult children have no right to compensation for mental pain and suffering or lost companionship.
They still have a claim for loss of support and services, and the estate has a claim for economic losses such as the loss of net accumulations. However, those damages are often not large enough to justify the expense of bringing a wrongful death case. In situations where the decedent was likely to earn more money than they spent if she had lived a full life, the damages can still be substantial. I highly recommend speaking with an experienced wrongful death attorney early in the process to fully understand your rights.
Wrongful Death Attorney
Senior Partner/Fasig Brooks Law Offices