Death by Car Accident: The Rights of Survivors
Personally experiencing, or even knowing someone that experienced, a car accident is a traumatic and scary event, and if the accident was serious, the long-term physical and psychological repercussions are likely dramatic. Of course, everyone realizes the inherent danger that riding in a moving vehicle presents, but one expects other drivers to exercise, and also practice, good judgment and refrain from engaging in risky or dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, not all drivers are prudent, and car accidents are often the result of these unsafe driving practices. As overwhelming as injuries from a car accident can be, the impact is much worse if someone loses their life. When someone dies due to the negligent acts of others, Florida law permits the surviving family members to sue under a wrongful death claim. This type of lawsuit allows survivors to sue the responsible party on behalf of the deceased and attempt to recover damages for items such as expenses incurred due to the accident and emotional suffering of the survivors.
A woman from Winter Park suffered through this painful experience after her husband was paralyzed by a pizza driver in 2011, which required her to undertake round-the-clock care, and then watch him die from a blood clot, a condition common in quadriplegics. She filed a wrongful death action against the pizza chain’s parent company and eventually received a $9 million jury award. While thinking about suing someone after a loved one dies in an accident may be completely off one’s radar, it is important to understand the legal rights the law gives to surviving family members. No monetary award will make up for this type of loss, but it could allow the family to find some measure in peace knowing the party who caused the death was held accountable.
When to File a Wrongful Death Suit
This type of lawsuit is essentially a personal injury claim where the surviving family members stand in the place of the deceased party. Thus, there must be enough facts showing the other party is at fault for the death due to negligent, reckless or intentional acts. Depending on the facts of the case, it may be possible to sue the other driver, the car manufacturer, or other third parties, like the driver’s employer.
Damages that May Be Recovered
Two types of damages are generally recoverable in these cases – economic and non-economic. However, only certain survivors have the right to bring this kind of suit without limitation; namely: spouses, minor children and parents of minor children. Adult children and parents of adult children have limited rights to bring a wrongful death case, which will be explained below.
Economic damages refer to expenses and other types of loss that are quantifiable. Examples of economic damages include:
- medical expenses;
- funeral expenses; and
- lost income from the time of the accident until death, and lost future income based on the person’s probable net income and life expectancy.
Non-economic damages are not quantifiable and relate to the emotional damage the survivors endure. Specifically, surviving spouses can sue for the loss of companionship, protection and mental pain and suffering experienced from the date of the accident. Minor children have claims for lost companionship, parental guidance, instruction and mental pain and suffering. Note that if the deceased had no surviving spouse or minor children, surviving adult children cannot ask for non-economic damages in wrongful death cases. Further, surviving parents of adult children are not entitled to non-economic damages in medical negligence cases.
Talk to a Lawyer
Wrongful death cases are complex legal and emotional matters that are best handled by experienced personal injury lawyers. Without this guidance, you may not sue the right parties or present enough evidence to convince a jury to rule in your favor. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado has represented numerous clients in wrongful death cases, and they can help you. Contact us for a free consultation.