How hard is it to prove wrongful death?
To prove wrongful death, you must prove three elements in order to recover damages: duty of care, breach of duty, and causation.
What damages may be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits are like any other civil lawsuit for damages in that you can claim three types of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic damages can be recovered for anything that costs you financially. These are any bills due to the accident, lost wages, or property damage that you had to pay out of pocket for. In the case of wrongful death, you can seek future economic damages as well. These cover finances lost due to the death of a loved one who provided for the household.
For example, you can seek economic damages for:
- Loss of a loved one’s income that they would have earned had they not perished
- Loss of income for the plaintiff due to care for the deceased, grief, and funeral arrangements
- Travel expenses of any dependents visiting the deceased before their death, if they were first hospitalized
- Loss of household or childcare services by the deceased that now create a financial burden
- Expenses for medication, hospitalization, or treatments
- Funeral and burial expenses
Non-economic damages refer to losses that do not come with a receipt. These cannot be quantified with a bill, but rather have ongoing consequences. Typically, they involve emotional trauma due to the loss of a loved one and their companionship.
Examples of non-economic damages you can seek are:
- Loss of companionship
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of guidance or care
- The deceased’s pre-death pain and suffering
- Love of consortium (spouses only)
Punitive damages can only be sought in specific instances. The courts believe that a person who has caused a death intentionally deserves additional punishment through punitive damages, over and above the economic and non-economic damages that they have already sought. This is meant to deter the person from committing the act again and shows society that this act is unacceptable.
Typically, punitive damages are only awarded in intentional killing wrongful death cases, as most cases are caused by accidents.
How long does it take to settle wrongful death claims?
Every wrongful death case is different, making it difficult to anticipate the average length of a case. In some cases, the claim can be settled within a few months. In others, it could drag on for several years. It all depends on a variety of circumstances that are not always within your legal team’s control.
On average, in Florida, a wrongful death case is resolved in one to four years. This length of time can scare plaintiffs into settling with insurance companies to avoid a trial. Although it is a quick resolution, it is clearly in the defendant’s best interest rather than your own. It allows them to skip discovery which could expose additional liability. Typically, these settlements offer far less than a court would award you in damages. In fact, their first few offers are likely to be shockingly low.
Individuals without legal representation may take these quick deals because they seem easy or they assume that it’s all they can get. Meanwhile, they’re leaving money on the table that they are rightly owed under Florida law. They may not even recover enough to pay off the economic damages, putting them in debt for an accident that wasn’t their fault.
Although wrongful death cases can be traumatic for a family and force them to think about the accident for years, it is vital that surviving family members consider the benefits of taking a wrongful death claim to trial. Trial is the only way for a court to lawfully determine negligence and award punitive damages that would otherwise not be included in a settlement.
If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim, contact our experienced Florida wrongful death lawyers to find out how they can help you seek the maximum damages you’re owed. We’ll work to make this experience less painful and recover damages to help you move forward with your life.
Wrongful Death Questions and Answers
What is the difference between medical malpractice and wrongful death?
Medical malpractice refers to any instance in which a medical professional provided a patient with substandard care and negatively impacted the patient’s health as a result. Claims occur for scars, loss of limb(s), development of complications or infections, adverse reactions to drugs, development of a secondary illness, or prolonged illness.
In some cases, medical malpractice can lead to wrongful death. In more severe scenarios, such as surgical error or accidental poisoning, a medical professional’s negligent actions can directly cause the death of a patient.
The main difference between medical malpractice and wrongful death is that medical malpractice doesn’t always result in death. In fact, most often the patient survives the malpractice and can file their own suit. When medical malpractice results in wrongful death, a serious breach of care has occurred. This can be the fault of the doctor, the nurse, the hospital itself, or a pharmacist.
What should I ask a wrongful death lawyer?
Accidental deaths are devastating for an entire family. On top of the grief of losing your loved one and handling their final wishes, you now have to consider a legal case. A wrongful death lawyer can help you manage the complicated filings of a wrongful death case in Florida, allowing you to focus on healing from your grief.
Your lawyer will be with you through a very difficult time in your life. It’s important to ensure that you choose the right one who can help take the stress off your plate and get you the maximum compensation you’re owed.
Research lawyers before you make your choice. Although it is good to hire a lawyer as soon as possible, you have the time to do some research and ask some questions to ensure they have the right skills to support your claim.
We recommend asking any wrongful death lawyer the following questions before hiring them:
- Do I have a case? This will allow you to find out what the lawyer actually thinks about your chances, what their strategy will be, and how much they think you can collect in damages.
- How much experience do you have in wrongful death cases? Personal injury lawyers sometimes take on wrongful death cases, although that’s not their specialty. This means that they don’t know as much as a wrongful death attorney. They could be leaving money on the table. It’s in your best interest to hire someone with years of experience personally handling wrongful death cases.
- What in the case could prevent me from winning? A lawyer with a strong awareness of a case can find problematic areas that could negatively impact their client. An expert lawyer will know how to overcome these issues. Asking this question gives you the opportunity to test whether or not the lawyer is an expert.
- Who will be working on my case? You may meet with one attorney, then have another assigned to you. It’s important to know who is actually responsible for your case. Ask for their contact information and how best to reach them. This way, you know that you can contact them when you need to.
- How long will my case take? No one can know exactly how long it will take to file a wrongful death claim and collect damages. If a lawyer tells you they know with certainty, that’s a sign of ignorance. This question also allows you to ascertain the lawyer’s workload. You want a lawyer who can give you personalized care and attention, rather than ignoring your calls because they have too many cases on the go.
Why do I need a wrongful death lawyer?
Wrongful death lawyers are here to assist you through a challenging period in your life. Grieving the loss of a loved one is physically and mentally draining, leaving you with little time or energy to handle an extensive legal case.
We want to ensure that you do not suffer financially. Insurance companies will try to prey on you in this challenging period by offering incredibly low settlements that won’t cover your economic damages. We will fight to protect your rights to damages and ensure that you have the space to grieve your loved one properly.
Will insurance companies compensate for wrongful death?
It depends on whether or not the defendant has an insurance policy that covers wrongful death. Some policies don’t include this, which would force the individual to cover the compensation if they are found liable for wrongful death.
Typically, wrongful death cases due to car accidents or medical malpractice are compensated by the insurance company of the defendant. Car insurance policies regularly cover wrongful death. Medical malpractice insurance is meant to cover a variety of errors, such as those resulting in wrongful death.
As these are the two most common causes of wrongful death, it’s good to know that they have insurance policies to ensure that you are compensated for your loss.
Should I involve the police in my wrongful death claim?
Police reports are often included as evidence in wrongful death cases. If the police were called at any time around the incident that led to your loved one’s death, you and your attorney will need to obtain copies of those reports. If the police were not involved at any point, your wrongful death lawyer can look at the specific circumstances of the case and see if any police involvement after the fact is necessary.
That said, wrongful death cases are civil matters, not criminal. Therefore, the authorities probably won’t be as involved as they would when prosecutors are pursuing criminal homicide charges, for instance.
What should I do if I lost my loved one in a vehicle accident?
If you have lost a loved one suddenly due to an accident, you have less time to process your grief. The first thing to do after losing a loved one in a vehicle accident is to take a moment, seek comfort from your loved ones, contact a grief counselor or therapist to help you process your emotions, and get used to your new life.
Although it can be difficult to consider investigating the accident while you’re dealing with your grief, it is vital to know the cause of your loved one’s death. If there was negligence, you may be able to recover damages for the unexpected costs and emotional suffering. This financial help can give you the time you need to heal without worrying about bills.
Contact a Florida wrongful death lawyer at Lytal, Reiter, Smith, Ivey & Fronrath for assistance.
Would worker’s compensation pay for my loved one who was killed on the job?
Worker’s compensation includes death benefits intended to help support the deceased’s family who have lost a source of income. Death benefits only apply when the employee dies on the job or directly because of a workplace injury, even if it is months after the injury occurred.
Additionally, if a workplace hazard exacerbated an existing medical condition that caused their death, such as black mold leading to an asthmatic’s death, you may be eligible for death benefits.