In Florida, when a person dies as a result of another party's accidental or intentional action, the deceased person's estate could be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this article, we'll look at the laws that apply to wrongful death claims in Florida, including who is eligible to file the lawsuit, the kinds of damages available in these cases, and the time limit on filing a wrongful death claim in the state's court system.
Under Florida law, a wrongful death occurs 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 (2021).) In other words, a wrongful death occurs when one person dies due to the legal fault of another party, including as a result of:
In some states, the deceased person's relatives can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Florida law, on the other hand, requires the personal representative (sometimes called an "executor") of the deceased person's estate to file a wrongful death claim. (Fla. Stat. § 768. 20 (2021).)
When a personal representative files the wrongful death lawsuit, he or she is acting on behalf of the deceased person's estate and any surviving family members, and the personal representative must list all potential beneficiaries when filing the claim.
It might be helpful to think of a wrongful death claim as a type of personal injury lawsuit where someone else must step in and file a lawsuit on behalf of the injured party (the deceased). As in other types of personal injury lawsuits, the defendant's liability in a successful wrongful death case is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation ("damages") that the court orders the defendant to pay to the deceased person's survivors. This is one major difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal homicide case, where a conviction can result in jail or prison time, fines paid to the state, probation, and other penalties.
There are other differences between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit. For instance, 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. In a civil lawsuit, the defendant's liability must be shown only "by a preponderance of the evidence," meaning it's more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the death. It is possible, though, for a single act to result in criminal charges and a wrongful death claim: A defendant can be sued for wrongful death in civil court while facing criminal charges related to the same death.
Learn more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.
Like other types of lawsuits, wrongful death claims must be filed within a certain period of time, set by a law called a "statute of limitations." In Florida, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death lawsuits is two years from the date of the person's death. (Fla. Stat. § 95.11(4)(d) (2021).) If the claim is not filed before that deadline passes, the deceased's personal representative will almost certainly lose the right to file at all.
However, A wrongful death claim may be brought at any time if the death was a result of murder or manslaughter—even if the accused has not been arrested, charged, or convicted of the crime. (Fla. Stat. § 95.11(10) (2021).)
In a successful wrongful death case, the court will order the defendant to pay "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—to compensate for the death. Under Florida law, the types of potential damages in a wrongful death suit fall into two categories: damages awarded to the deceased person's family and damages awarded to the estate. Damages paid to the family commonly include money to compensate for:
The deceased person's estate may also recover certain types of damages, including:
(Fla. Stat. § 768.21 (2021).)
Get more details on the types of damages available in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death cases can be complicated—and the law can change at any time. If you're thinking of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida, consider consulting a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law might apply to your specific situation.