Who is entitled to compensation for wrongful death in Florida?
Wrongful death cases are some of the most vigorously fought cases in the Florida court system and often result in some of the highest verdicts and settlements. I’ve been lead counsel on dozens of wrongful death cases, four of which have gone to a jury trial, and despite my experience, I still have to refer to the Wrongful Death Statute, Florida Statute 768.18.
In Florida, if you are a survivor of somebody who died due to the carelessness of another, you may be entitled to compensation under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. Florida Statute 768.18. “Survivors means the decedent’s (dead person’s) spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support and services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers or sisters. It includes the child born out of wedlock of a mother, but not the child born out of wedlock of the father unless the father has recognized a responsibility for the child’s support.”
There are two different elements of the wrongful death claim that should be understood when pursuing the claim: (1) the rights of the estate and (2) the rights of the survivors. The estate is entitled to certain elements of the damages, i.e., medical and funeral expenses, lost earnings of the deceased from the date of injury to the date of death, and the loss of money the deceased would have earned minus what he or she would have spent if he or she had lived a full life. The benefits of those damages are released to the survivors of the estate according to the will of the decedent or the laws of intestacy if the decedent died without a will.
Under the laws of intestacy in Florida, if a spouse survives the decedent and neither the spouse nor the decedent has lineal descendants outside of the marriage, the spouse is entitled to the entirety of the estate. If the descendant is survived by both a spouse and lineal descendants and any of those lineal descendants are not also a descendant of the spouse, the spouse is entitled to one-half of the estate, and the other descendants share the balance. If the surviving spouse has lineal descendants outside of the marriage, the spouse is entitled to one half of the estate, and the other half is divided among the descendants. Florida Statute 732.103 discusses the division of the part of the estate not passing to a surviving spouse. The father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, surviving brothers and sisters, and sometimes cousins or other blood relatives may be entitled to all or part of the estate. If the person who died made a lot of money and saved or invested it, or if they had the capacity to earn a lot of money over their lifetime and were likely to accumulate wealth, the value of the damages due to the estate can be extremely high.
The survivors of a wrongful death are also entitled to certain elements of damages according to the Wrongful Death Act. “Each survivor may recover the value of lost support and services.” “The surviving spouse may also recover for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection and for mental pain and suffering from the date of 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 the 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.”
According to the statute, “The action shall be brought by the decedent’s personal representative, who shall recover for the benefit of the decedent’s survivors and estate all damages.” The choosing of a personal representative is another topic altogether for another blog. Figuring out if you have a viable wrongful death claim can be very complicated and should be done by an experienced attorney. It’s vital to contact an attorney as soon as possible after the claim arises because evidence needs to be preserved to protect your rights and ensure that you get the full value of the claim.