Some of the hardest cases for me to handle on a personal level are wrongful death lawsuits. Anytime someone loses a loved one, it is a tragic event. When that death is due to the negligent behavior of another person, it only compounds that loss.
Florida law, as outlined in the state’s Wrongful Death Act, is very specific about:
- Who can file a claim
- Who is entitled to damages
- The types of losses that can be recovered
- How long a plaintiff has to file a claim
The purpose of this law is to shift the burden of the loss from the decedent’s survivors to those responsible for the death. While no amount of money can ever replace all that a person contributes to the lives of those around them, this act does at least relieve some of the financial burdens the grieving family may have to bear.
In this post, we will examine the first two of the subjects above.
Who Can File a Claim
In a wrongful death case, there are severe limits placed on who can file legal actions. There must be a Personal Representative (PR) appointed by the court. The PR is selected by the court, but in the majority of cases, if the decedent has a will the person chosen as executor is appointed. Barring that, the position usually falls to the deceased’s next closest kin or a person of the family’s choosing.
The purpose of the Personal Representative is to take control of all the business affairs of the deceased until the estate is settled. It is only this person who can file a claim on behalf of the decedent’s estate and the survivors.
Having one person who acts as both the spokesperson and decision maker for all concerned parties prevents multiple suits from clogging the court’s calendar and greatly streamlines the entire probate process.
Who Is Entitled to Damages
There are two legal entities that have a right to seek damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. They are the deceased themselves through the estate and any survivors. In general terms, the people who are legally entitled to file for damages in a wrongful death case are:
- A spouse
- A child
- A parent
- Anyone else who is partly or wholly dependent on the deceased for support and/or services
This sounds fairly simple, but as is often the case with the law, there are conditions set that tend to muddy the waters.
As examples, a child born outside of marriage to a woman is automatically considered her heir, but the status of a man’s illegitimate child is dependent on whether the father has recognized the child and provided support and/or services to it. Also, the rights of a parent to file for damages are dependent on the age of the decedent, marital status and several other factors.
In certain cases, it may be possible for siblings of the deceased, whether adopted or related by blood, to be parties to an estate. In others, even business partners may have certain rights.
As you can see, just determining who actually has a legal right to seek damages in a wrongful death lawsuit can become quite complicated.
It is always a painful experience when you lose someone you love. Having to face financial issues while going through the grieving process can be dispiriting and leave you mentally and emotionally drained. Don’t feel that you have to face it alone.
If you have lost someone you cared for because of the negligent acts of others, let us help lighten your burden. Contact Sinclair Law today, and let us see how we can help.