Your Wrongful Death Liability Lawyers
Your Christian Law Firm, Dean Burnetti Law represents the Families of Wrongful Death Victims in Polk County, including: Lakeland, Auburndale, Bartow, Haines City, Lake Wales, Mulberry, Polk City, and Winter Haven; in Hillsborough County, including: Brandon, Tampa, and Plant City; in Pinellas County, including Clearwater, St. Pete, Gulfport, Treasure Island, Largo, Oldsmar; and all of the surrounding Greater Central Florida and West Central Florida Areas.
John 11:25 - “Jesus said unto her, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.’“
The mere thought of death makes most people uneasy. It’s difficult to even know what to say to someone when we learn they have lost someone close to them. When we lose a loved one, our grief can overwhelm us to the point of despair. When we lose a friend or family member due to a long illness, though it is no less difficult than losing someone due to a sudden death, we at least have a little time to prepare ourselves mentally for the inevitable, and to seek closure and say our final goodbyes. But when we lose someone suddenly, unexpectedly, and due to the negligence of another person, it can feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under us, and we have no idea which way to turn.
One of the cruelest circumstances surrounding the sudden loss of a close loved one is that in the midst of our sudden onset of grief, we have to set aside our pain and turn our focus to planning a funeral. With that comes notifying friends and family, explaining repeatedly what happened to cause the death of the loved one, meeting with a funeral director, discussing unpleasant topics such as casket colors, headstone designs, burial plot availability… and cost. (It’s not cheap.) In fact, many funeral homes don’t even accept credit cards as a form of payment! Which then means looking into less expensive options that may not be what the deceased person wanted or what we wanted for them (such as cremation), or we may find ourselves at the bank applying for a high-interest loan. At any rate, the business of dying is a profitable one for some people.
The point is that while no amount of money can ever make up for the loss of our loved one, monetary compensation from the party that was at fault for the loss can help ease the financial burdens that accompany this kind of loss.
Florida law (statute §768.19) states that when someone’s death is “caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract” of another person, the estate of the deceased person may bring a civil lawsuit in Florida’s courts against the responsible party.
When a wrongful death happens and the family of the deceased person wishes to file a legal claim against the responsible party, the State of Florida requires the Personal Representative of the deceased person’s estate to initiate the claim. If a Personal Representative is not named in the deceased person’s will or estate plan, one will be appointed by the Court at the time a wrongful death claim is prepared to be filed.
While the Personal Representative must be the party named on the lawsuit, the claim must actually be filed on behalf of the deceased person’s estate and their surviving family members. Such claims must list every survivor who has a vested interest in the case.
Florida law also dictates which specific family members are allowed to be listed as survivors who are allowed to benefit from a wrongful death case. These include:
- The deceased person’s spouse
- The deceased person’s children*
- The deceased person’s parents
- The deceased person’s blood relative who is “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services”
- The deceased person’s adoptive sibling who is “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services”
[*If a child is born to unmarried parents, the child can receive compensation from a wrongful death case if his or her mother dies. However, if the child’s father dies, the child can only be listed as a party to the wrongful death claim if the father had formally recognized the child as his own and was obligated to contribute to the support of the child.]
What if my loved one died because of their doctor’s negligence?
This is where Florida’s wrongful death laws get tricky: The list above gets even narrower when we look at the Florida Wrongful Death Act which specifies which family members are allowed to make what types of claims if the person died as a result of a medical malpractice claim.
Here’s what the law specifically allows each family member to claim in the case of medical malpractice death claims:
- A surviving spouse can file a claim for “intangible damages” (meaning the mental anguish of losing their spouse as well as their loss of companionship).
- A surviving spouse can also file a claim for the value of lost services (typically of a household nature) as well as lost financial support if the deceased person was employed.
- Other blood or adopted relatives (think children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren) who were either entirely or partially dependent on the deceased person for financial support and/or other services can also file a claim for the value of those lost services.
- Surviving children of the deceased person who are under the age of 25 can also file a claim for “intangible damages” (meaning the mental anguish of losing their parent, as well as the loss of parental guidance and companionship.)
- If the deceased person was employed and it can be fairly predicted that, through their income, they would have accumulated certain assets over their remaining work-life expectancy, the estate of the deceased person can also file a claim for those lost assets, legally known as “lost net accumulations of the estate.”
- The deceased person’s estate can file a claim for all medical bills caused by the negligent act of the party who caused the deceased person’s death.
- Finally, the deceased person’s estate can also for the funeral expenses, depending on who paid them.
If you read the list above, and feel that the Florida Wrongful Death Act is a bit discriminatory, you’re not alone…
What if a 72-year old retired widower dies during a routine appendectomy? He has no surviving wife, and his children and dependents are well over the age of 25-years old. Despite the fact that his family is devastated by their loss, under Florida’s discriminatory Wrongful Death Act, the only damages allowed to be claimed are his medical bills and his funeral bill.
The result would be the same with a 27-year old, single, childless woman who did not have a good-paying job when she died during a cholecystectomy (laparoscopic gall bladder removal surgery). Unless she had a good education with a promising career already in motion, her estate would not have much of a claim for “lost net accumulations.”
Now, remember, these discriminatory provisions of the law only apply to medical malpractice cases and not other types of wrongful death claims where someone other than a treating medical entity is responsible for the death. For example, if that same 72-year old widower described above were killed by a drunk driver, his middle-aged children would be allowed to file a claim for their emotional damages. And the parents of that 27-year old unmarried woman could recover for their emotional damages if she died as a result of slipping in an oil slick at a gas station and splitting her skull.
However, before you become discouraged and decide not to look into filing a legal claim because of the law’s restrictions, it is important to discuss your options with an experienced attorney who may be aware of certain case law that could pertain to your specific circumstance and which could open a door for the deceased person’s survivors to receive compensation for their loss.
How long do I have to file a Wrongful Death lawsuit in Florida?
Every state has laws in place that dictate the time limits on your right to file a lawsuit in various types of cases (i.e., auto accident injuries, injuries obtained while at work, injuries resulting from tripping over cracked pavement, injuries sustained from medical care or nursing home abuse, etc.). This law is called a statute of limitations. In many states, the time allowed for a wrongful death claim for a death in an auto accident is different than the time allowed for an injury sustained in an auto accident, as well as the various other types of accidents that can cause injuries or death.
In Florida, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed before the 2-year anniversary of the death date, though there are a few exceptions. Failure to do so could cause you to lose your right to bring your wrongful death lawsuit to court.
While 2 years may seem like plenty of time to file a wrongful death claim, you need to remember that your lawyer needs as much time as possible to gather supporting evidence for your case. Therefore, the sooner you seek legal representation, the better chance your attorney has to prepare your case.
What kind of accidental deaths are classified as “wrongful deaths”?
Just about any kind of accident that is caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another party and results in the death of an innocent victim can be classified as a “wrongful death.” Some of the most common types of wrongful death cases are caused by the following:
- Car accidents
- Drunk driving accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Boating accidents
- Airplane accidents
- Cruise ship accidents
- Medical malpractice accidents
- Nursing home patient abuse or neglect
- Death caused by defective products
- Fatal dog attacks
- Negligent security
- Sexual assaults
- Death caused by dangerous property conditions
- Work-related deaths
- Slip and fall accidents
- Swimming pool accidents
- Amusement park ride accidents
- Animal attacks
- Birth injuries
- Defective engineering
- Defective products
- Pharmacy errors
- Nursing home abuse
- Criminal assault at work or school
- Escaped livestock on a roadway
Does every wrongful death claim end up in court?
In a word, no. Actually, it’s very likely that, depending on the type of accident that caused the wrongful death, the case may settle long before the need to court intervention. Your lawyer will review your case and discuss your options with you, and, together, you may decide that you would be better off attempting to negotiate a settlement before any litigation is filed. An experienced lawyer will be able to help you decide what will net you the best settlement in your claim.
A wrongful death can be the fault of an individual person, a group of people, a company, a manufacturer, or an engineer. It can be due to negligence (such as a business’ failure to maintain a safe area for the public to talk), poor judgment (such as an employer instructing an employee to do an unsafe task), defective design (such as a medical device or implant), irresponsibility (such as a driver drinking or taking drugs), defective engineering (such as a necessary automobile part), failure to obtain treatment or proper treatment (such as in a medical malpractice), abuse or neglect (such as in a nursing home), poor instruction (such as a sports coach demanding a deadly tackle), tainted food (such as bacterial poisoning), inadequate security (such as when a gunman enters a workplace or school), or just poor overall judgment.
If you’ll look at recent news items, you will easily be able to see where any number of incidents could have easily taken a turn for the worse and become a wrongful death. Let’s take a look:
HEADLINE: New York State allows Juvenile Center correction officers to use pepper spray to terminate inmate assaults.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: There have been documented cases of people with asthma dying as a result of exposure to pepper spray.
HEADLINE: A woman lost consciousness while driving a mile and a half because she forgot to take her anti-seizure medication. A truck driver noticed something wrong and maneuvered in front of her to bring her car to a stop.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: While unconscious, she could have run into another car, a bike, or a pedestrian and killed someone. Or there could have been a defect in her car or the truck that stopped her, and their impact could have caused an explosion, killing both drivers.
HEADLINE: After being pulled over, a disgruntled Kentucky man shared his anger on Facebook citing police harassment. The following day, the Trooper who pulled him over, along with two other officers, went to the man’s house and confronted him, demanding that the man fight him. The man’s girlfriend called 911, but they refused to send help, stating that police were already on the scene. It wasn’t until another officer noticed video surveillance in front of the home that the attack stopped and they left.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: Either the man, his girlfriend, or one of the three police officers could have been killed in this melee. The already angered officer could have become so enraged that he killed the man, or the failure of the 911 operator to send help could have been the catalyst that caused the girlfriend to grab a gun and kill one of the police officers.
HEADLINE: A school bus driver in Baltimore was filmed by a student passenger driving while using her phone to FaceTime a student. (In Baltimore, it is illegal to use handheld devices while driving.)
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: Instead of a bunch of angry parents, this bus driver’s bad judgment could have easily resulted in a bunch of grieving parents.
HEADLINE: An upstate New York family had their hearts broken after their dog was mauled to death by their neighbor’s four dogs. The incident happened in front of their children, and the family dog sustained broken ribs, punctured lungs, ruptured intestines, and a broken jaw before dying that evening.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: The alternative to this is obvious: one or all of the children could have as easily been the victims of the deadly attack.
HEADLINE: Men who worked near the World Trade Center on 9/11 are now turning up with breast cancer.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: While the Statute of Limitations of any “wrongdoing” in this case may have expired years ago, the example is to show that people who work with chemicals, mold, or are exposed to other toxins in their workplace and get cancer (or C.O.P.D., or another lifelong disease) as a result, can just as easily die as a result of the disease caused by the exposure.
HEADLINE: A New Orleans man is behind bars for using a handgun to rob two Waffle House locations within a span of 20 minutes.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: An employee, who has been previously reprimanded for having a short cash register drawer, resists giving the gunman the money and is killed in the open-all-night restaurant that has no security in place.
HEADLINE: A high school quarterback suffered a career-ending injury that left him paralyzed. He plans to use the life-changing incident to help other young athletes stay safe.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: A football injury is just as likely to cause death.
HEADLINE: A Phoenix woman who ran a home child care facility is facing charges of child abuse. In one case, she confessed to “squeezing the 2-year old victim’s genitals, because she was frustrating about him urinating on her bathroom floor.”
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED: Anyone who can be so cruel to a small child for such an insignificant offense can just as easily get so agitated that her abuse turns deadly.
John 14:1-4 - “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”
Call (863) 287-6388 (in Lakeland) or (813) 287-6388 (in Brandon) today to schedule a confidential consultation with an attorney at Your Christian Law Firm, Dean Burnetti Law.
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We declare that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all. That the Holy Spirit abides in the midst of all within our halls. That the power of prayer is our shield and sword.
We declare that Christ is the cornerstone of this firm.
Lakeland: (863) 287-6388
Brandon: (813) 287-6388