Unexpected deaths are life-changing events for family members, loved ones, and friends. If the incident that caused it was preventable, this is what we call a wrongful death in Florida. Pinellas residents may want to talk to a personal injury lawyer about filing a wrongful death claim if they believe that negligence, carelessness, or intentional misconduct caused their loved one’s death.
If you want to speak to a personal injury lawyer about a wrongful death claim in Florida, call Herman & Wells at (727) 821-3195.
In Pinellas, FL, a person usually has two years from the date of the incident to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These types of cases are regulated by the Florida Wrongful Death Act, Florida Statutes § 768.16, along with other applicable Florida laws. That is why it is recommended that you contact an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Pinellas as soon as possible.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death in Florida?
An individual can file a wrongful death claim if another’s legal fault contributed to their death. Wrongful death lawsuits are relatively new. A lawsuit of this kind was forbidden by common law (law brought to the United States from England). The right to bring a wrongful death suit was created in the last century by state and federal courts. Wrongful death laws are now enacted in every state in the country.
A wrongful death claim in Florida can arise from any negligent or illegal act resulting in the death of another person. They arise from negligent, reckless, or wanton acts that have fatal impacts. Various acts can result in wrongful death cases, such as car accidents or violent assaults.
There is the possibility of financial recovery from the at-fault party when a wrongful death claim is filed. In general, these wrongful death claims can fulfill two functions, depending on the state law. Firstly, they are a kind of personal injury claim. A wrongful death lawsuit could result from any negligence claim the decedent might have brought on their own behalf. Second, there is the wrongful death claim regarding the impact on the survivors. If these relatives lose companionship and financial support, they could be entitled to compensation.
Who’s Entitled to Damages in a Pinellas Wrongful Death Case
Florida’s Wrongful Death Act says that “survivors” are entitled to damages in a wrongful death case. “Survivors” include the deceased person’s spouse, parents, children, or anyone who depended on the decedent for support, either partially or completely, any blood relatives, and any adopted sisters or brothers.
The person who actually files the suit is always going to be the personal representative for the deceased person’s estate. Our firm typically arranges to have the estate set up and the personal representative assigned in most of the wrongful death claims that we handle. A lot of times the personal representative is one of the survivors.
What Damages can be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
There are different damages that be recovered in a wrongful death case in Florida depending on who the survivors are. Here are a couple of examples:
A surviving spouse with no children would make a claim for:
- Loss of Companionship and Protection
- Mental Pain and Suffering
- Loss of Support and Services from the date of injury to date of death
- Future Loss of Support and Services from the date of death
- Medical and funeral expenses
Surviving children (under 24) when there is a surviving spouse make a claim for:
- Loss of Support and Services
- Future Loss of Support and Services
- Loss of parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and mental pain and suffering.
What is the Wrongful Death Claims Process like in Pinellas?
States handle wrongful death claims differently, but the process is essentially the same everywhere including Pinellas Florida. These claims may only be brought by certain parties. It is also different within states to file a claim for a wrongful death, which means claims based on the same facts could appear very differently based on the jurisdiction.
As soon as the correct plaintiff is determined, a thorough investigation is typically conducted in the early days of the claim. An element of wrongful death investigation is determining the cause and determining the responsible parties. A demand will be issued to the at-fault party once the claims investigation is complete. As part of the demand, the plaintiff requests compensation in exchange for not bringing a wrongful death lawsuit.
At this stage, some wrongful death cases are settled while other cases will end up in court. Typically, it takes several months or even years for a jury trial to be conducted after a plaintiff files a wrongful death claim.
Is a Wrongful Death Case a Criminal Matter?
Wrongful death claims are not a criminal act. However, wrongful death claims can also lead to criminal investigations or prosecutions. The two types of lawsuits differ substantially. Wrongful death claims are civil suits. A person or entity can be negligent in causing the death. Even though homicide may also lead to a wrongful death claim, not all possible wrongful death cases involve criminal activity. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that is brought by a private attorney. These actions result in the defendant being awarded monetary compensation if they succeed.
There are a number of important differences between criminal and civil cases. Ultimately, it is up to the elected district attorney or prosecutor to decide whether or not criminal charges should be brought against the offender. In criminal cases that are decided in favor of the state, the result is typically prison time or fines.
It is possible for both cases to occur simultaneously. As a result, the decision by the state to file criminal charges does not affect your right to file a civil lawsuit. It is true that some states require that a civil defendant put their case on hold until criminal charges are resolved.
Who Can Sue for a Wrongful Death in Pinellas Park?
Under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, “survivors” are entitled to damages in wrongful death cases. All people who depended on the deceased for support, either partially or completely, including their spouse, parents, children, and any blood relatives as well as any adopted siblings and brothers can be considered survivors. Whoever files the lawsuit will always be the personal representative of the estate of the deceased. In most of the wrongful death claims we handle, we arrange to have the estate established and the personal representative appointed. The personal representative is often one of the surviving family members.
Should You Talk to a Wrongful Death Lawyer in Pinellas?
Grieving loved ones can benefit greatly from the services of wrongful death attorneys in Pinellas. Your attorney can investigate the circumstances of your loved one’s death, determine liability, advise you of your legal rights, and possibly file a lawsuit on your behalf to seek compensation for the losses resulting from the loss. State laws vary when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits. You may not be eligible to sue for compensation depending on where you live. In Pinellas, you are eligible to sue for wrongful death. Lawyers who specialize in wrongful death cases in Pinellas can pursue compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. In addition to the medical costs your family member received before passing away, funeral and burial expenses, and the income it would have earned if your family member had lived.
It’s harder to determine non-economic damages. Examples include:
- Your loved one’s pain and suffering before he or she died
- Survivors lost love, companionship, support, and affection from their loved one
- Emotional anguish caused by the wrongful death
- In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. Damages at this level punish a party for particularly egregious behavior and serve as a warning to others.
Lawyers with experience handling wrongful death cases can analyze all the relevant facts and determine a fair settlement amount. You can sue and negotiate an out-of-court settlement with an attorney. While most civil cases are settled out of court, sometimes the parties can’t come to an agreement. You may be able to receive compensation from a jury if that happens and your lawyer takes the case to trial. You stand a chance of receiving a favorable settlement from your wrongful death case if you decide to hire a wrongful death attorney.
Important Factors to Consider Before Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
It is rare for wrongful death claims to take longer than a few months to resolve, especially when there is no question about who was to blame or what happened. If any of these factors apply to your case, you may have to wait for one to three years.
- An insurance company that acts in bad faith
- Insurance companies can delay a claim due to a high compensation request
- The insurance company denies fault
- Shared negligence
- Proving fault is difficult
- Pending criminal charges
Timeline for Wrongful Death Claims & Lawsuits in Florida
An already difficult time can become even more challenging when you have to deal with legal issues. Knowing what to expect and being aware of the timeline and upcoming events is the best way to deal with this.
Like other personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death has a statute of limitations. The start date varies depending on where you live. According to Florida statutes for 2019, wrongful death claims must be filed within two years of death in most cases. A lawyer can help you on this matter as soon as possible since the statute of limitations applies. In some cases, the grounds for filing a lawsuit can be obvious (for instance, if someone is hit by a bus and witnesses claim the driver fell asleep). Others, however, are much more subtle. Medical malpractice is an area that is challenging for many people. You should begin the process of filing a claim as soon as you have established that negligence or recklessness occurred.
It is important to open a probate estate as soon as possible. You need a legal entity to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a deceased person. A will allows you to handle much of the paperwork before meeting with the probate attorney, making this procedure easier. When beneficiaries are minors, the court will generally appoint a guardian to assist in looking out for their best interests and managing any funds received.
A wrongful death attorney will collect as much supporting evidence as possible in support of your case. Possible evidence includes:
- Bills for medical services.
- Doctor’s reports and death certificate indicating the cause of death.
- Testimony from eyewitnesses.
- Records that indicate a product may be defective. For example, the recall notice might be used as evidence if somebody died as a result of a faulty product.
The lawyer is trying to establish three things during this process:
- The defendant owed the deceased person a duty of care.
- That duty was breached by the defendant.
- That breach caused the death. For example, you can’t sue if safety gear broke just after (or because) your loved one suffered a heart attack. A direct cause must be established.
Most wrongful death lawsuits never make it to court. Having gathered the evidence necessary to support your case, your lawyer will negotiate a settlement with the other party. You’re likely to be advised to accept a reasonable settlement over going to court by your lawyer. Again, it won’t be for the amount they began negotiations with, because it will be deliberately high.
Mediation and arbitration are generally used to determine a settlement. Large companies often seek arbitration, and they may claim that their terms of service or end user agreements require you to do so. Good attorneys will defend you against this. In general, mediation is a fair method: A professional mediator handles agreements between both parties and helps determine what is fair. An arbitrator decides whether one side is right or wrong by means of a ruling. Essentially, this is the same as a court trial, but is much more affordable. If you are unhappy with the outcome of the arbitration, you can go to court. It is very important that any agreement you enter into with the defendant is carefully drafted. Hold out for something worthwhile staying away from settlements against the advice of your attorney.
Going to Trial
Cases generally go to trial when liability is less clear and establishing fault requires more effort. Unless there are federal issues involved, in which case you may have to go to a federal court, the trial will be held in the county where you filed the suit.
With the help of the judge, the jury will determine if a wrongful death occurred and calculate damages. In other words, trials are often emotional appeals to the jury, even though they shouldn’t be. Trials can last between an hour to a few days. It is common for juries to award more damages for permanent injury than for death when it involves children.
Rather than risk the final decision being made by an easily influenced jury, it is often wiser to settle. Make your best effort to appeal to the jury’s better nature if you go to court. Show yourself to be a decent individual by being pleasant and presentable. Theory dictates that the jury should decide based on the law, as they will be instructed to do so. However, jurors are only human and do not receive the extensive training in impartiality that judges and mediators receive.
Looking for Good Wrongful Death Lawyers in Pinellas? Call Herman & Wells
Searching for experienced wrongful death lawyers in Pinellas County? We are here to help you learn about your options after losing a loved one. Contact Herman & Wells over the phone or with the form on this page. We will review your case for free and tell you whether we believe that you have a case.
Case ResultsSee More Case Results
Wrongful Death Settlement
Our client’s 28 year old son was killed by a car. Prior to being hit by the car, he had been in an altercation and was “knocked out” and was lying in the middle of the street. A motorist then struck him and drug him nearly three blocks under their car. Testing showed that the motorist had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. The wrongful death case was settled for $1,508,000.00.
Intoxicated Driver Killed Father and Husband
We represented a family who lost their father and husband in an accident involving a truck driven by a driver believed to be under the influence. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of the family and after fighting for our clients, we were able to settle their case for $2,050,000.