Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Florida

Learn about wrongful death claims in Florida -- what they are, who can sue, and what damages are recoverable.

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that may be brought to court when the negligence or wrongful act of one party causes the death of another person. Here, we'll look at who may bring a wrongful death claim in Florida and what kinds of damages may be available in these cases. We'll also discuss the time limits that govern the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida's court system.

Florida Wrongful Death Claims

Florida Statutes section 768.19 states that when a person's death "is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract" of another person or some other entity, the estate of the deceased person may bring a civil lawsuit in Florida's courts, seeking a legal remedy for that death and the losses stemming from it.

Who May Bring a Florida Wrongful Death Claim?

Florida law requires the personal representative of the deceased person's estate to file the wrongful death claim. The personal representative may be named in the deceased person's will or estate plan. If there is no will or estate plan, the personal representative will be appointed by the court.

Although the wrongful death claim is filed by the personal representative, it is filed on behalf of the deceased person's estate and any surviving family members. In the wrongful death claim, the personal representative must list every survivor who has an interest in the case.

Family members who may recover damages in a Florida wrongful death case include:

  • the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents, and
  • any blood relative or adoptive sibling who is "partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services."
If a child is born to unmarried parents, the child can recover damages in a wrongful death case if his or her mother dies. If the child's father dies, however, the child can only recover damages if the father had formally recognized the child as his own and was obligated to contribute to the support of the child.

Time Limits for Filing a Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Each state has passed laws that set time limits on your right to go to court and file a lawsuit. This kind of law is called a statute of limitations, and most states have passed a separate statute that covers wrongful death lawsuits.

A wrongful death lawsuit in Florida must be filed within two years of the date of death in most cases, according to Florida Statutes section 95.11(4)(d). The deadline may be "tolled," or postponed, under a few very specific circumstances. An attorney with experience handling Florida wrongful death cases can help you determine exactly when the statute of limitations expires in a certain case.

It's critical to understand and follow the deadline set by the statute of limitations, otherwise you could lose your right to bring your wrongful death lawsuit to court.

Damages in Florida Wrongful Death Cases

A wrongful death case is a civil claim. This means that it is brought to court by the deceased person's estate, not by the government. Liability in a wrongful death claim is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Although a criminal case related to the death might also be filed in court, it addresses different concerns, and it typically does not result in damages being paid to the estate or the surviving family members.

Florida Statutes section 768.21 sets out the state's rules for awarding damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Damages that surviving family members may receive in these kinds of cases include:

  • the value of support and services the deceased person had provided to the surviving family member
  • loss of companionship, guidance, and protection provided by the deceased person
  • mental and emotional pain and suffering due to the loss of a child, and
  • medical or funeral expenses any surviving family member has paid for the deceased person.
The deceased person's estate may also recover certain types of damages. These include:
  • lost wages, benefits, and other earnings, including the value of lost earnings that the deceased person could reasonably have been expected to make if he or she had lived
  • lost "prospective net accumulations" of the estate, or the value of earnings the estate could reasonably have been expected to collect if the deceased person had lived, and
  • medical and funeral expenses that were paid by the estate directly.

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