Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Florida

An in-depth look at eligibility for bringing a Florida wrongful death claim, potential damages, and more.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

In Florida, when a person dies because of another party's misconduct—whether negligent (careless) or intentional—the deceased person's estate might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. We'll find out how Florida law defines "wrongful death," look at who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, explain how long you have to file your case in court, and more.

What Is "Wrongful Death" in Florida?

Under Florida law, a wrongful death happens when a person or entity causes another person's death by a "wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty… ." (Fla. Stat. § 768.19 (2023).) In other words, a wrongful death occurs when one person (called a "decedent") dies due to the legal fault of another party, including as a result of:

Who's Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida?

In some states, the decedent's relatives can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Florida law, on the other hand, requires the personal representative (sometimes called an "executor") of the decedent's estate to file a wrongful death claim. (Fla. Stat. § 768.20 (2023).)

A personal representative who files a wrongful death lawsuit is acting on behalf of the decedent's estate and any surviving family members. The personal representative must list all potential beneficiaries when filing the lawsuit.

Differences Between a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and a Criminal Homicide Case

A wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit. A homicide case is a criminal matter. It's possible, though, for the same act to result in criminal charges and a wrongful death claim. In other words, a person can be sued for wrongful death in civil court while facing criminal charges related to the same death.

Here's a quick example. Moe and Larry get into an argument. Larry pulls a gun and shoots Moe, killing him. If this happened in Florida, the personal representative of Moe's estate could sue Larry for wrongful death, on behalf of Moe's estate and his surviving relatives. In addition, the local prosecutor likely would prosecute Larry for criminal homicide.

Here are a couple of other important ways that a civil case differs from a criminal case.

Damages vs. Prison

When the plaintiff wins a wrongful death lawsuit, the defendant's liability is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation ("damages") that the court orders the defendant to pay. A criminal conviction can, of course, end in jail or prison time, fines, probation, and other penalties.

The Standard of Proof

In a criminal case, the accused's guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is a very high bar for the prosecution to clear. While there's no single, generally accepted definition, beyond a reasonable doubt is sometimes described as doubt that would cause a reasonable person to question the defendant's guilt.

The standard of proof in a civil lawsuit is much lower. The defendant's liability, or legal responsibility, need only be shown by a "preponderance of the evidence." Under the preponderance standard, the plaintiff has to show that it's more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the decedent's death.

(Learn more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.)

How Long Do I Have to File a Florida Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A "statute of limitations" is a deadline for filing a lawsuit in court. In Florida, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death lawsuits is 2 years from the date of the decedent's death. (Fla. Stat. § 95.11(4)(d) (2023).) If the case isn't filed before that deadline passes, the right to file a wrongful death suit is probably lost, forever.

Florida has carved out an important exception to the 2 year limitations period for certain wrongful death claims. Specifically, a wrongful death suit can be filed at any time if the death resulted from murder or manslaughter—even if the accused hasn't been arrested, charged, or convicted of the crime. (Fla. Stat. § 95.11(10) (2023).)

Damages in a Florida Wrongful Death Case

In a successful wrongful death case, the court will order the defendant to pay "damages"—the plaintiff's claimed losses—to compensate for the decedent's death. Under Florida law, the types of potential damages in a wrongful death suit fall into two categories:

  • damages awarded to the decedent's family, and
  • damages awarded to the estate.

Damages Paid to the Decedent's Family

Damages paid to the family commonly include money to compensate surviving family members for:

  • loss of support and services the decedent provided to family members
  • loss of the decedent's companionship and protection
  • mental pain and suffering
  • loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, and
  • medical and funeral expenses that were paid by surviving family members.

Damages Paid to the Decedent's Estate

The decedent's estate may also recover certain types of damages, including:

  • lost wages, benefits, and other earnings from the date of the injury to the date of the decedent's death
  • the value of earnings and benefits the decedent could reasonably have been expected to save and leave as part of the estate if the decedent had lived, and
  • medical and funeral expenses that were paid directly by the estate.

(Fla. Stat. § 768.21 (2023).)

Get Help With Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Wrongful death cases can be complicated, and the law is often difficult to understand. If you're thinking of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida, your best bet will be to hire an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer who understands wrongful death claims can guide you through the legal maze and help you present your best possible case.

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