The Value of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When a loved one dies, whether expected or not, the reality of his/her absence is never easy for those left behind. When that death is the fault of someone else, the pain is often much worse. In the first days and months after the loss, just getting through the day may be all the remaining family members can do, but at some point, they may decide to pursue legal action against the responsible party by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits are used when a person dies as a result of a third party’s negligence, and to allow the victim’s family the opportunity to collect monetary damages. Every wrongful death lawsuit involves a tragic story, like the ambush and killing of a Leon County Deputy due in part to the dispatcher’s failure to warn of potential danger at a crime scene. No amount of money can ever really compensate for the loss of a person, nor is it possible to assign a value to the person’s life that is adequate. But, holding the party at fault for the death accountable in a lawsuit requires calculating an amount of damages the family believes it suffered due to the person’s death. The value of a wrongful death lawsuit can vary widely based on state law and the circumstances of the case itself. Litigating wrongful death claims will require the family to relive the tragic event, opening up barely-closed wounds. Understanding how much a party could receive, if successful, may help families better decide if legal action is appropriate.
Two types of damages are generally available in wrongful death suits – economic and non-economic. Economic damages refer to quantifiable costs related to the victim’s injury and death, including obvious things like medical expenses and funeral costs, but also the loss of victim’s present and future financial support from lost wages and lost increases in value to the victim’s estate. Non-economic damages are not easily quantifiable but refer to the loss of the relationship to the family. These include:
- loss of companionship, guidance and protection; and
- mental and emotional anguish.
In addition, the family may also be entitled to punitive damages if the court decides the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct, and deter others from similar acts.
Limits on Damage Awards
Florida’s limits on wrongful death suits primarily relate to who is allowed to file suit and collect damages. One could reasonably assume that all family members would automatically be able to initiate this type of lawsuit regardless of the specifics of the case, but Florida imposes restrictions with respect to adult children and their parents. To begin, there is no question that spouses, parents of minor children and minor children have the right to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. However, once the children become adults, the parents have no right to recover for mental pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases, nor the ability to get damages for lost support in any type of wrongful death suit, relating to the children, assuming the parent was not a dependent. Further, adult children may not receive damages for the loss of a parent’s guidance and instruction or pain and suffering. Basically, in cases involving unmarried adult children with no dependents, non-economic damages are cutoff in both directions. This difference in treatment unfairly devalues deaths involving adult children, and puts surviving family members at a great disadvantage.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you lost a loved one through the negligent acts of a third party, find out if you may have a legal claim for wrongful death by consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer. While receiving compensation will not bring the person back, it can help to make life more comfortable, and importantly, hold the other party responsible for his/her actions. The Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado knows how financially and emotionally overwhelming these cases can be, and is available to evaluate your case. Contact us for a free consultation.