By Marcus Fernandez
Coping with the death of a loved one is never easy, but when the person dies unexpectedly in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, the loss becomes even more devastating and painful. Combined with the grief and mourning over a life lost is the realization of the harm the negligent person caused to members of the victim’s family.
A record high 225 traffic fatalities last year in Hillsborough County shows an alarming trend that should add to concerns you have about the safety of loved ones when they go out in the family car. There were 20% more fatalities in 2021 than just one year earlier and exceeded the goal of local officials to keep fatalities at no more than 190.
Florida, and most other states, enacted laws to provide families with a way to hold people accountable by forcing them to pay compensation when their negligence causes a death. A wrongful death claim compensates the spouse, children and other dependents of a deceased victim of a car accident for their financial losses due to the death.
What is a wrongful death claim in Florida?
Upon death, the responsible party can be held liable to pay damages to the deceased person’s estate. The statute establishes the following conditions for a lawsuit based on a wrongful death claim:
- The conduct must be either a wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of a contract or warranty;
- The conduct was the cause of death; and
- The deceased person could have sued and recovered damages had they survived.
The types of incidents from which wrongful death claims may arise include:
- Car accidents and other incidents caused by negligent acts.
- Crimes and other intentional acts.
- Defective products.
- Work-related accidents and illnesses.
- Deaths caused by medical malpractice.
If a family dies because of the fault of another party, a consultation with a Tampa personal injury attorney can determine whether a wrongful death claim exists.
Filing a wrongful death claim – State law matters
Generally, when someone is injured in a car accident, their attorney sues the party whose negligence caused it. The death of the victim means the law must designate someone else to sue for damages.
Some states designate the spouse, children, parents or other relatives of the deceased to sue for wrongful death. Florida takes a different approach by authorizing the personal representative for the deceased to sue for wrongful death. The personal representative would be the person named in the will as executor of the estate of the deceased, or their administrator if the person died without leaving a will.
Damages recoverable for the death of a loved one in Florida
The personal representative sues on behalf of the estate and on behalf of the family of the deceased. The damages recoverable for the benefit of the estate include:
- Earnings lost from the date of injury until the date of death of the deceased.
- The cost of medical treatment administered prior to death.
- Funeral and burial expenses paid or owed by the estate.
Damages recoverable on behalf of the spouse and minor children of the deceased, or the parents of a minor child who died. The law also permits other relatives to benefit from damages awarded in a wrongful death claim. For example, blood relatives who were dependent on financial support provided by the deceased may recover damages.
The car accident damages that may be recovered by surviving relatives include the following:
- Lost financial support that would have been provided by the deceased.
- Loss of companionship of the deceased.
- Mental anguish suffered by the surviving relatives.
- Loss of parental guidance and companionship when a parent dies.
- Medical expenses or funeral expenses paid on behalf of the deceased.
A relative who paid for medical care provided to the deceased or the funeral expenses may recover them.
Limitation on the time to make a wrongful death claim
Law limits the time you have to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. In Florida, the lawsuit must be filed within two years of the death. If not, the right to recover damages is lost.
There is, however, an exception when the death resulted from commission of the crimes of murder or manslaughter. The two-year statute of limitations that usually applies in wrongful death cases does not apply.
Consult with a Tampa wrongful death attorney
If you lost a family member in a car accident caused by negligence, you may have the right to recover damages. A Tampa personal injury attorney at KF&B Law can review the facts and circumstances of the accident and offer options that may be available to you.