Over my 35 years of practice as an injury lawyer I have handled a number of wrongful death cases here in Florida. These cases are different, not only because of the huge damage awards that are possible, but because they exist pursuant to a Florida Statute, the Wrongful Death Act, Florida Statute 768.16, and not solely based on the common law. Oddly, there was not claim for wrongful death under the common law we inherited from merry old England.
First of all, the case must be brought by the Personal Representative of the estate of the deceased on behalf of the estate and “Survivors” as defined in the Statute. Survivors may be the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, or other blood relatives who were dependant on the deceased for aid and support. Illegitimate children of a deceased mother are survivors, but not so for deceased fathers (unless acknowledged).
Different survivors are allowed different damages, with “mental pain and suffering” being the most valuable typically. Spouses and children have the most valuable claims. Spouses can recover lost companionship and protection and pain and suffering. If there is no spouse, children recover the same. If there is a spouse, children over 25 and other survivors recover loss of support and services only. Parents recover similar damages for deceased children.
Estates can recover money that the deceased might have accumulated in his or her life. Unfortunately, many wrongful death cases are worth very little, but each should be thoroughly evaluated by an experienced attorney. Often people die without spouses or children and little evidence that they would have left a huge estate. That is where the apocryphal saying that: “It is sometimes cheaper to kill rather than to seriously injure” comes from.
Finally, the time limit to file suit is only two years, not the usual four. See an experienced lawyer at once after a death, only then will the family have peace of mind knowing that all rights have been examined and respected.