If you’ve lost someone close to you, the last thing that you want to do is file a lawsuit. However, if someone is responsible for your loved one’s death, they may be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit. Florida’s wrongful death laws require that only the estate personal representative may bring a wrongful death action.  Even though the personal representative is the party bringing the case, he/she recovers the individual damages for all beneficiaries of the estate.   Below are some frequently asked questions regarding wrongful death suits.

What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

The answer to this question will depend on whether the person died as a result of the injuries, or of unrelated causes. In situations where a person is injured in an accident and subsequently dies as a result of those injuries, that person’s heirs may recover damages through a lawsuit. Every state has a law permitting an action when someone causes the wrongful death of another. If a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, in most cases the claim dies with the decedent unless it was a significant injury.  In that instance, a lawsuit may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate for the damages, losses and suffering the decedent experienced up until his/her death.

What deaths are actionable?

Many states require that a child be born alive in order for its death to be the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit. Accordingly, the death of a fetus may not be actionable in some states. It is advisable to consult with an attorney concerning specific state law. It is also permissible to bring a wrongful death action based on the death of a child or elderly person. For a number of reasons, however, the damage awards for both classes of decedents are limited.

After someone dies, what is the difference between the criminal and civil charges that can be brought regarding the death?

Criminal cases involve the government seeking to punish an individual for an act that has been classified as a crime. On the other hand, a civil claim has to do with a dispute regarding the rights and duties that individuals and entities legally owe to each other. In criminal matters, the burden of proof is higher and the punishment imposed is a criminal sanction such as imprisonment. In civil matters, however, the defendant will typically have a monetary judgment entered against them. In most states, punitive damages are not recoverable in a wrongful death action. There are some states, however, that have specific statutes permitting recover of punitive damages. There are many differences among different state wrongful death laws and it is recommended that you consult with an attorney experienced in wrongful death lawsuits to discuss your specific state laws. Determining the state which you can bring a wrongful death action is an important decision, as some states do not allow certain types of awards and may have different statutes of limitation within which you must file suit.

Can I bring a wrongful death suit if the decedent was not employed?

Even if the deceased person never held a job, it is still permissible to bring a wrongful death action. The deceased may have contributed to his or her family in another way, such as being a stay-at-home husband or wife who contributes services, guidance and nurturing. These contributions are quantifiable as “pecuniary” losses in a wrongful death action. In addition to wrongful death, a decedent’s family may also recover damages for pain and suffering the survivors experienced by the loss of the decedent.

When an injury results in death, surviving family members are entitled to recover damages for the wrongful death of a loved one. Let the experienced team at Wittmer & Linehan PLLC​ assist you in evaluating your claim and maximizing your ultimate recovery. Contact our office at 941-263-8314 to speak with our knowledgeable team of attorneys.