Fort Myers Wrongful Death Lawyer
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.
Fort Myers Wrongful Death FAQ
The death of a loved one can cause immense anguish to family members, particularly if the carelessness or recklessness of another person caused the death. This type of situation not only leaves family members wondering how to make ends meet, but also leaves them wanting to hold responsible parties accountable. If you’ve lost a loved one in Fort Myers because of another individual’s reckless or negligent actions, you should pursue compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Here are some of the questions we most commonly hear about wrongful death claims.
What is wrongful death?
Florida law defines wrongful death as “the death of a person … caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including breaches that occur on navigable waters, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued.”
Wrongful death may include:
- Deaths that were the result of accidents caused by the negligence of other individuals, such as motor vehicle accidents or premises liability accidents in which a company neglected to improve a dangerous feature on its property or post warning signs. Other types of negligence-caused accidents that may produce a wrongful death include medical errors, such as birth injuries, surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or medication errors, and product liability accidents, where the manufacturer or distributor fails to ensure that a product is safe for consumer use.
- Deaths caused by intentional acts, such as assault.
- Deaths that occur during the commission of a crime. An example of this might be a bank robber who caused a motor vehicle accident while attempting to flee from police.
Some of the types of accidents that may result in a wrongful death include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including those that involve cars, commercial trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, watercraft, pedestrians, and bicycles
- Nursing home abuse or negligence that results in death
- Medical malpractice
- Premises liability
- Product liability
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil legal action filed on behalf of the decedent’s family or estate seeking compensation for damages caused by or connected with the death.
How is liability proven in a wrongful death case?
To establish a defendant’s liability for the decedent’s death, lawyers in Florida generally (though not necessarily always) need to prove:
- The defendant owed the deceased a duty of care. This duty depends on the circumstances that led to the death. For example, if the death was the result of a car accident, the duty of care that the defendant owed the deceased would have been to operate the motor vehicle safely and legally.
- The defendant breached the duty of care. The defendant’s behavior that caused the accident generally constitutes the breach. Continuing with the car accident example, the breach may have been speeding, driving drunk, or whatever behavior the defendant exhibited that caused the accident.
- The breach caused the accident, which resulted in the death and damages that the family now has the right to claim.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida?
Those who can recover damages through a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s children
- The deceased’s parents
- Any blood or adoptive relative that is wholly or partly dependent on the deceased for support
- The deceased’s estate
I just found out that my biological father died recently. He and my mother were never married, and I never knew him. Am I entitled to compensation for his death?
Generally, no. Florida law states that in cases involving unmarried parents, the child can recover damages if his or her mother dies. However, if the father dies, the child may only obtain compensation if the father formally recognized the child as his and was obligated to financially support the child. A wrongful death lawyer can, however, analyze your situation to determine whether you have a good case for seeking compensation.
What damages are recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit?
Some of the damages you may recover in a wrongful death lawsuit include:
- Medical expenses incurred during treatment of the deceased’s final injury
- Funeral expenses
- The loss of support and services that the deceased provided to a family member
- Loss of companionship, guidance, and protection that was provided by the deceased individual
- The mental pain and suffering due to the loss of a child
The decedent’s estate may recover the following expenses:
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings from the date of the deceased’s final injury until the date of death
- Loss of future earnings that the deceased could have been reasonably expected to receive had he/she lived
- Medical expenses and funeral costs that were paid directly by the estate
I suffered a miscarriage due to a car accident. Can I file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party?
No. Florida’s wrongful death law does not allow the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit due to the death of a fetus. However, you may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit and obtain compensation for your loss through that action. An experienced attorney can advise you on this matter.
The person who caused my wife’s death was arrested after the accident. Do I still have a case?
Yes. An arrest is part of the criminal process handled by local governments. Criminal cases seek to punish individuals for breaking laws by charging them with crimes and seeking convictions and punishment. Wrongful death actions are a civil matter, filed in civil court to prove through a preponderance of the evidence that the at-fault party is liable for the plaintiff’s damages. These are two entirely different legal actions, with different outcomes, and one may occur without impacting the ability to pursue the other.
Doesn’t my PIP policy have a death benefit? Will that provide me with the compensation that I need?
Florida personal injury protection (PIP) policies are required when drivers register their vehicles in the state. If your loved one died due to a car accident, the policy will provide a $5,000 death benefit regardless of who was at fault in the accident. While this is certainly useful, it is not a lot of money, particularly if your loved one required extensive medical treatment before death, or the family incurred extraordinary losses. A wrongful death lawsuit allows you to pursue an amount of compensation that is based on the entirety of the damages you’ve suffered.
My boyfriend died in an accident caused by someone else. Can I file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Unfortunately, no. Wrongful death lawsuits are only permitted to be filed on behalf of the spouse, children, parents, and other relatives who financially depended on the decedent.
How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?
Generally, you have two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death claim. DO NOT WAIT two years before contacting a lawyer, however. Your case depends on evidence, witness testimony, and many other things that can vanish or fade with time. Call us as soon as possible if you believe a loved one died in a wrongful death case.
My mother died in a workplace accident. Can I file a wrongful death claim?
Accidental deaths in the workplace are generally covered by death benefits through the decedent’s employer’s workers’ compensation insurance. However, some circumstances warrant a wrongful death claim, such as where:
- The employer did not provide workers’ compensation insurance for employees.
- A third party who was not a coworker or an employer caused the death.
- An intentional act for which the employer had no liability, such as workplace violence, caused the death.
Do wrongful death cases ever settle out of court?
Yes. In fact—as is the situation with most civil actions—the majority of wrongful death cases settle out of court. A wrongful death attorney typically works to achieve a fair settlement on his or her client’s behalf. Cases usually only end up in courts in front of judges and juries when the parties cannot achieve a settlement.
What is the average settlement in a wrongful death case?
Every case is unique, and most settlements are confidential between the parties, which makes it difficult to come up with a meaningfully accurate or useful average figure.
The financial outcome of a wrongful death case depends on a variety of factors, including:
- The age of the deceased at death
- The overall health of the deceased before his or her final injury
- The life expectancy of the deceased before his or her final injury
- The earning capacity of the deceased
- The number of dependents the deceased had
- The expenses incurred in medically treating the deceased in an attempt to save his or her life
- Egregious behavior on the part of the at-fault party that could result in punitive damages
- How much insurance the at-fault party has available to compensate you
- The strength of the case for proving liability
The at-fault party’s insurance provider has already offered me a settlement. Should I accept it?
Never agree to a settlement without speaking to an experienced wrongful death attorney first. The reason for this is that insurance companies will always attempt to minimize their losses. One of the ways in which they do this is by offering quick settlements that don’t take into consideration the complete picture of the losses that you’ve incurred. If you accept the settlement and then later realize that the compensation wasn’t enough to cover your expenses, you likely cannot go back and ask for more money.
An experienced wrongful death attorney knows how to evaluate a case to determine the amount of money the grieving family of a deceased victim deserves to receive. Families should always speak with an attorney before considering any offer from an insurance company.
How long until I receive a reasonable wrongful death settlement offer?
To start, not all cases settle. A settlement is an agreement to give up legal rights in exchange for financial compensation. As we said above, lawyers virtually always try to negotiate fair and reasonable settlements on their clients’ behalf, but that does not always mean a settlement will happen. Some cases only get resolved through a trial before a judge and jury.
Even if your case does end in settlement, the amount of time it takes to get to a deal can vary widely. We have represented clients in wrongful death matters that were resolved in months, and we have had cases settle only after more than a year of legal battling. Speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney to get a sense of the prospects of a settlement in your wrongful death matter.
Is an award in a wrongful death case taxable?
According to the IRS, wrongful death settlements and awards for compensatory damages are not generally taxed, except for punitive damage awards in some circumstances and awards for lost wages and benefits that would have been included as income.
How can an attorney help with my wrongful death case?
Having an experienced wrongful death attorney help you after the tragic death of a loved one is absolutely crucial. Some of the services that an attorney can usually provide for in a wrongful death matter include:
- Information and guidance regarding the legal process involved with a wrongful death case
- Identification of all potentially-liable parties and evaluation of the financial resources those parties have to compensate you and your family
- Evaluation of a wrongful death claim to determine an accurate amount of damages that your family has suffered
- Skilled negotiation in the attempt to obtain a fair settlement of your case
- Timely filing of legal pleadings and other litigation documents
- Attendance and representation at all hearings, conferences, and trials
- Collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses to prove your claim
- Efforts to collect a settlement or award
- Continued representation if the defendant in your case chooses to appeal the verdict
The experienced attorneys at Viles & Beckman understand that this is a difficult time for you and your family, filled with a lot of questions. We can help answer those questions. Contact us for an evaluation of your case.
You Don’t Have to Pursue Recovery Alone. Call Our Fort Myers Wrongful Death Attorneys Now
Following the death of a loved one, the best course of action is to seek counsel from a personal injury firm that you can depend on. Put your trust in us; all of our potential clients are entitled to a free, confidential case review. We have experience representing individuals in Fort Myers wrongful death claims, and our experience will help ensure that we maximize your compensation. Call Viles & Beckman at 239-334-3933, or contact us online, to schedule an appointment. When you are ready to talk, we are here to listen. We want to help you recover from your loss, both financially and emotionally.