What Is Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute?

On Behalf of | Jan 16, 2019 | Personal Injury

When someone dies because of negligence, surviving family members may be entitled to claim compensation for their losses. But the law governing those claims can be complex…

When someone in your family dies unexpectedly, the loss touches so many areas of your life. Your day-to-day experiences, finances, emotional health, and quality of life can all be affected. It’s a challenging time for everyone involved, and unfortunately, there’s no manual for how to go through it.

There is, however, a process in place for helping family members recover compensation after a death caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness.

The available damages might include medical bills, funeral costs, lost emotional or financial support, and more.

The processes for filing those claims — and the rules about who can and can’t file them — are governed by the Florida wrongful death statute. It’s a complex piece of legislation. If you have questions, you aren’t alone. An experienced Miami wrongful death lawyer can help.

In this article, we will provide a general overview of the Florida wrongful death statute and answer some of the most common questions, including:

  • Who can sue for wrongful death in Florida?
  • What damages are available in a Florida wrongful death case?
  • What is the Florida wrongful death statute of limitations?

The Florida Wrongful Death Statute: An Overview

The Florida Wrongful Death Act appears in the Florida Statutes, Chapter 768 (entitled Negligence) of Title XLV (entitled Torts). You can access the full text here, beginning with Section 16 and continuing through Section 26.

The Act applies to any death of a person that is brought about by another person’s (or an entity’s):

  • Wrongful act, or
  • Negligence, or
  • Default, or
  • Breach of contract.

While that definition might seem straightforward, the Act itself is actually quite complex, having been interpreted across numerous court cases throughout the state over the course of many years.

If someone in your family has passed away and you believe the Florida wrongful death statute might apply, you should reach out to an experienced attorney right away.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in Florida?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions regarding the Florida wrongful death statute, but to answer it, we really have to ask two questions.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida?

The answer to this question is: the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. Each estate must appoint one individual to serve as “personal representative” (i.e. the person responsible for overseeing the estate immediately after the death). If the deceased did not name a personal representative in his or her will, a court will appoint one.

Technically, the personal representative is the only person allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida. But he or she does so on behalf of the surviving family members. Therefore, the more important inquiry for your family might be our next question…

Who is eligible to recover damages in a Florida wrongful death case?

Wrongful death benefits are limited to certain specific relatives of the deceased, namely his or her:

  • Spouse
  • Children by birth
  • Blood relatives who are “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services” (including siblings related by blood)
  • Adoptive siblings who are “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services”

If a child is born to unmarried parents, the child is eligible to claim wrongful death benefits for his or her mother. But if the child’s father dies, the child will only be eligible for wrongful death benefits if the father had recognized a financial responsibility for the child prior to dying.

These are the general rules. Families are complicated, however. It isn’t uncommon for a deceased person to die and leave behind a family that doesn’t quite fit the rules as they are written in the Florida wrongful death statute. Special rules might apply when complicating factors are present. It’s best to contact an attorney with experience in Florida wrongful death law to discuss your family’s situation in specific detail. Kaire & Heffernan, LLC can help.

What Damages Are Available in a Florida Wrongful Death Case?

The damages available under the Florida wrongful death statute can be divided into two categories: those available to the individual family members and those available to the estate itself.

Individual Family Members

Individual family members may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Medical expenses incurred by the individual family member
  • Funeral expenses incurred by the individual family member (including burial costs)
  • Loss of the deceased’s affection, companionship, guidance, and/or protection
  • Loss of support and services the deceased provided to the individual family member (e.g. household services, childcare services, etc.)
  • The family member’s emotional pain and suffering due to losing a child

The Estate

The estate may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Lost wages and benefits (including those the deceased would have reasonably been expected to earn had they survived)
  • Lost earnings the estate would have reasonably been expected to collect had the victim survived (“Net Accumulations”)
  • Medical expenses paid for by the estate
  • Funeral expenses paid for by the estate (including burial costs)

Compensation awarded to the estate may, in turn, be distributed to eligible beneficiaries after certain creditors and expenses have been paid.

What Is the Florida Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?

Generally speaking, any claim for wrongful death damages in Florida must be filed within two years of the date of death. There are very limited circumstances in which the statute of limitations might be extended, or when the starting date might be “tolled” or delayed.

You should never make assumptions about how much time you might have to file, nor should you delay unduly (as these claims can take some time to prepare). Instead, talk to an experienced Miami wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Kaire & Heffernan, LLC Today.

At Kaire & Heffernan, LLC, we are committed to giving grieving families the sensitive, competent, and zealous legal representation they deserve. In any wrongful death case, it is our goal to relieve the family’s burden to the greatest extent possible while also fighting to recover the largest amount of compensation on your behalf.

Here’s our guarantee: we will not charge for our services unless and until we get you compensation.

Time limits apply to Florida wrongful death claims, so please don’t delay. Schedule a free consultation with the Miami wrongful death lawyers at Kaire & Heffernan, LLC right away.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.