The following passage in an article about traumatic loss says it all about a death caused by someone’s intentional, negligent, or reckless actions that results in the accidental taking of human life:
“A death is considered traumatic if it occurs without warning; if it is untimely; if it involves violence; if there is damage to the loved one’s body; if it was caused by a perpetrator with the intent to harm; if the survivor regards the death as preventable; if the survivor believes that the loved one suffered; or if the survivor regards the death, or manner of death, as unfair and unjust.”
Wrongful Death Is a Civil Action
Families who have been devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one due to the negligence of another person have legal recourse in the form of civil litigation. With the help of a personal injury wrongful death attorney, certain family members can file suit against the person, company, or entity responsible for the accident or injury.
The Reasons to Pursue Wrongful Death Litigation
A personal injury lawyer advocates for financial compensation on behalf of the surviving spouse, minor children, or parents. There is nothing that a Florida wrongful death lawyer can do to change the fact that a family must now face the future without the love and support of a loved one. No amount of money will ever be able to replace a future that is now irrevocably altered. Instead of planning their next family function together, the survivors are faced with planning a funeral.
The decision to initiate a wrongful death claim is a difficult one, and grief can take a heavy toll. When death comes without forewarning, the sudden impact of the traumatic event can create unexpected complex feelings of anger, guilt, depression, and hopelessness. The grief process that follows a violent and preventable accident is very different from dealing with an expected or anticipated death.
The legal process associated with a wrongful death lawsuit is complicated, and the road to recovery is not easy. That being said, a wrongful death lawsuit can:
- Restore a sense of purpose and organization to a family unit
- Provide necessary resources to allow for a sense of financial security
- Provide a modicum of closure
- Pursue justice for the loss of a life
- Expose the defendant’s negligence and help prevent future wrongful death cases
Six Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths
Automobile and truck accidents rank high on the list of reasons for wrongful death lawsuits. An annual statistical report of traffic fatalities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that an estimated 37,461 people recently died in motor vehicle traffic crashes, with 3,174 of them in Florida. Fort Myers is not immune to the types of tragedy on our roadways and in our community that can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
In November 2018, WINK reported that a 20-year-old motorcyclist was cut off by a car on Pondella Road in Fort Myers. The driver of the car failed to observe a yield sign when turning left at a green light and pulled out in front of the cycle. According to Florida Highway Patrol, The motorcyclist, who was traveling faster than the speed limit, was pronounced dead at the scene.
In August 2018, a 23-year-old Fort Myers man was killed, and another critically injured, when a pickup failed to stop at a stoplight and crashed into the car they were in, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.
Bicycle accidents – Bicyclists enjoy the same rights and have the same responsibilities as motorists when sharing our roadways. Due to the lack of protection, cyclists are particularly vulnerable when involved in an accident with a bike and a car.
According to the Fort Myers News-Press, on February 20, 2019, a bicyclist riding along a sidewalk on Bonita Beach Road was killed when he was hit by a vehicle that veered off the roadway following a crash.
Medical malpractice – Medical errors are among the leading causes of death in our country today. In a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 21 percent of participants reported having personally experienced a medical error.
In August 2018, the Bradenton Herald reported that the family of a 49-year-old registered nurse who committed suicide while a patient filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Centerstone of Florida in Bradenton. The deceased was on suicide watch and should have been checked on every 15 minutes, but had not been checked on in about nine hours on the night he killed himself.
Product liability – Defective products are a common cause of a wide range of injuries. Hazardous materials and chemicals used in manufacturing processes can cause burns, respiratory issues, and severe allergic reactions. When products are not assembled according to specifications, or when designs are flawed, consumers face the risk of sustaining fractures, lacerations, catastrophic injury, and, in the worst-case scenario, death.
As reported by the Insurance Journal in March 2019, a 2016 Tesla Model S caught fire and burned the 48-year-old driver beyond recognition.
Construction site accidents. The construction industry poses a high-risk work environment that can be extremely dangerous, not only for workers onsite, but also for pedestrians in the area.
In March 2018, a pedestrian bridge under construction on Florida International University’s (FIU) campus collapsed, killing six and injuring several others. Design flaws may have contributed to the accident.
Wrongful Death in a Nursing Home
The wrongful death of a loved one in a nursing home or personal care facility is preventable, compensable, and wrong on every level. This is a highly regulated industry on both federal and state levels. Administrators are required to adhere to strict hiring procedures, employees must pass both personal and professional background checks, and employees must complete very specific educational requirements. The acceptable standards of care leave no room for interpretation, and anyone performing patient care is held to a high standard of competence.
As is to be expected, residents of nursing homes die of natural causes, but when healthcare workers make mistakes, someone dies before his or her time, and this is a wrongful death.
Who Is Considered a Survivor
In Florida, a deceased individual’s spouse, children, parents, or any blood relative or adoptive sibling dependent on the deceased for either support or services may file a wrongful death claim.
Florida law defines survivors as spouses, children, and parents of the deceased. In addition, any blood relative or adoptive sibling can be considered a survivor if they are at least partially financially dependent on the deceased for support. In some cases, the amount of financial recovery can be significant. Consider the following:
- Each eligible survivor may seek monetary compensation for the projected value of lost support and services from the date of the deceased’s death to the date of the survivor’s death.
- The surviving spouse can recover the value of any lost services and loss of economic support, especially if the deceased was the primary wage earner.
- The spouse can also ask for compensation for loss of companionship and protection, as well as for pain and suffering.
- Children under the age of 25, and all children if there is no surviving spouse, under the law may recover for loss of parental companionship, instruction, guidance, and mental pain and suffering.
- Each parent of a deceased minor child may recover financially for mental pain and suffering.
- Medical and funeral expenses directly related to the decedent’s injury can be recovered by the survivor who paid them.
All of the personal injury attorneys at Viles & Beckman—Marcus Viles, Michael Beckman, and Maria Alaimo—understand the time immediately following the death of a child, spouse, or parent is stressful and wrought with confusion. If you have unanswered questions about your rights and your recovery, we are here to help, and we take our responsibilities seriously.
What Should You Consider When Projecting the Value of Lost Support and Services
Although most wrongful death cases will settle without ever having to go before a jury, when determining the projected value of financial compensation, at Viles & Beckman, our planning strategies cover all the bases. We leverage our combined backgrounds and experience to develop a case strong enough to tip the scales in our favor during settlement negotiations, and compelling enough to convince a judge and jury that this grievous loss deserves maximum financial consideration.
Every case is unique, and every individual’s future needs should be carefully analyzed and taken into consideration. In projecting the value of lost support and services in a wrongful death accident case, it all matters, and it all makes a difference. Among other things, we consider the following:
- The current age and projected life expectancy of all qualifying survivors
- The number of years until all minor children become adults
- The estimated life expectancy of the decedent
- The projected lifetime earning potential of the decedent
- The possibility of any future increased needs of any dependents
- The probability the decedent would have financially helped any of the survivors based on previous contributions
The Ties That Bind
Relationships matter. When placing a value on survivor’s potential financial compensation, in the court of public opinion as well as in a Florida courtroom, the relationship a survivor had with the deceased most definitely will be taken into consideration by a jury and especially by the insurance adjusters investigating the case. Things such as past infidelity, previous separations, divorce proceedings, and family discord can make a significant difference in the total amount of money awarded. We advise potential clients to be completely forthcoming about relationship problems. There may be mitigating circumstances that can prevent perception from becoming reality in the eyes of a judge and jury.
Do Not Make the Insurance Adjuster’s Job Easier
When a substantial payout is possible, in all probability, the claims adjuster for the defendant will contact the surviving spouse, parent, or child. Families are under no obligation to take telephone calls, answer emails or texts, or give a recorded statement to anyone, except the deceased’s personal life insurance company.
Every detail, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, the insurance company can glean out a conversation with a survivor can and will be used to undermine and devalue a case. Although survivors all have individual rights to recovery, this is the time to stand strong and stand together; field any and all contact with the defendant’s insurance company to a Florida wrongful death attorney.
Don’t Forfeit Your Right to Recover
Time may seem to be standing still during the grieving period, but from a legal standpoint, with few exceptions, the statute of limitations for a Florida wrongful death action is two years from the date of death. This time period may change, though, depending on the specific circumstances of your case, so you should contact an experienced attorney immediately.