St. Petersburg Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you are mourning the unexpected death of a relative or loved one, you may be wondering if someone can be held legally responsible for their death. If your loved one passed away as the result of another person’s negligent or reckless act, you may be entitled to recover monetary damages from the person responsible.
A St. Petersburg wrongful death lawyer can provide you with invaluable legal assistance as you navigate this difficult time, and will serve as your advocate in all aspects of bringing your claim. Our injury attorneys in St. Petersburg can help you determine what relief you are entitled to under Florida law and will help you build the best possible case to maximize your chances of recovery.
What is Wrongful Death?
Early in American history, once someone died, all rights to sue died with them. Surviving family members had no rights to file a lawsuit against a wrongdoer for the death of a loved one.
However, modern law now allows a victim's estate and their immediate family to file a lawsuit against any and all liable people or parties on behalf of their deceased loved one. Wrongful death is a type of tort, which is a civil, non-criminal action where one person or entity wrongfully caused harm to another.
Wrongful death lawsuits are civil legal actions that provide for certain living family members to pursue financial compensation (damages) for the loss of their loved ones resulting from wrongdoing. When someone dies by the negligence or misconduct of another person or party, the victim's family can bring a wrongful death case against them in civil court. If the claim is successful, the court awards the victim's family monetary damages.
Many people think that wrongful death is the same as a murder charge, but this isn't true. For example, a murder charge is a criminal act. With murder charges, the court must convict the accused by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, in a civil wrongful death action, the standard of proof is instead a "preponderance of the evidence." In a wrongful death lawsuit, the party bringing the action only must establish that the at-fault party was more likely than not to have caused the death. The civil standard of proof is lower than the standard of proof in a criminal case. A prime example of this is OJ Simpson being found not guilty of murder yet civilly liable in court for the death of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson.
The Person Responsible for My Family Member's Death is Facing Criminal Charges. Can My Family Pursue a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Yes, you absolutely can still file a civil wrongful death lawsuit as they are two different types of cases. Criminal cases and civil cases for a death are kept entirely separate. Civil and criminal courts don't overlap, although attorneys may use some of the same evidence in each type of case. However, there is potential that the outcome of a criminal case can impact the outcome of the civil case but not always.
Criminal charges for murder, homicide, manslaughter, and the like are brought by the prosecuting attorney on behalf of the State of Florida and are rooted in criminal law. If convicted in criminal court, the party responsible for the death will face various consequences, depending on the severity of their conviction, such as:
- Community service
- Suspension or revocation of their driver's license
A civil lawsuit is brought by specific family members of the decedent and is rooted in civil law. Suppose the court finds the accused party at fault or liable for the death. In that case, they are ordered to pay a monetary award to the victim's family and/or their estate. Suppose they or their insurance company, such as in a car accident, don't pay this money. In that case, an experienced Florida wrongful death attorney can help the family members take further actions to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve.
The Value of Your Wrongful Death Claim
The compensation you can recover in a wrongful death claim is for the money the decedent would have earned over the course of their life had they lived, among other losses, and ensuring that you and your family do not end up with financial troubles because of another individual’s negligence. If the decedent paid all the household expenses, for instance, your settlement would factor in that contribution’s lifetime value when determining your compensation.
But how much compensation will you receive from a wrongful death claim? Basically, the following factors will be considered when calculating a settlement or award for wrongful death:
- The exact nature of the event, circumstances, and actions of the at-fault party that led to the death of the decedent
- The value of benefits that were lost because of the death, including health insurance and other insurance plans
- The particular degree to which the at-fault party is liable for the decedent’s death
- The decedent’s estimated net worth upon their death
- To what extent and whether the negligence of the at-fault party is offensive to public morality
- The decedent’s future earning potential
- The age and overall health of the decedent upon their death
- Services the decedent would have provided
- The mental and physical anguish suffered by the decedent’s loved ones
- Any potential inheritance
- Burial and funeral expenses
Due to the unique and individual circumstances of each claim, there’s no average or set amount of compensation for wrongful death claims. An experienced St. Petersburg wrongful death lawyer, however, can answer questions specific to your situation and help you understand how much your claim may be worth.
What You Need to Know About Survival Actions and Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are focused on awarding compensation for the losses a decedent’s loved ones suffered when the decedent died due to someone else’s wrongdoing or negligence. Survival actions, on the other hand, are focused on compensation for damages that the decedent would have been legally entitled to had they lived.
Let’s say, for instance, that a young father suffered catastrophic injuries in a devastating car crash and died a couple of months later from their injuries. His beneficiaries have the right to receive wrongful death damages for the losses they suffered because of the father’s untimely death. But the beneficiaries also have the right to bring a survival action on behalf of the decedent to seek virtually the same damages.
Because the damages from wrongful death and survival actions are similar, the surviving family must decide whether to pursue a survival action or wrongful death claim. In some cases, however, the family can choose the most suitable option for their specific case under the doctrine of election of remedies. These are complex legal issues, and you do not need the added pressure and concern regarding possibly making the wrong decision.
Instead, let a St. Petersburg wrongful death lawyer review your case and advise you of your best options given the specifics of your circumstances and losses. This way, you can trust your rights are protected under Florida law.
How Can A Lawyer Help?
When a relative or someone close to you passes away, bringing a legal claim is likely the last thing on your mind. However, if you believe that the death of your loved one was the result of someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior, you should act quickly to initiate a wrongful death claim against the person responsible.
Although you may be legally entitled to recover a monetary award as a result of your loved one’s passing, there are many complex requirements for bringing a wrongful death claim in Florida. Failing to understand and fully abide by these requirements can result in you losing your chance to recover the damages you are entitled to.
Wrongful Death Damages
Although the damages available to beneficiaries of an estate are limited under Florida law, many beneficiaries can also be categorized as survivors, who are legally entitled to bring a wider range of claims in a wrongful death suit.
Title XLV, Chapter 768.21, Florida Statutes, contains different restrictions on recovery for wrongful death claims. A wrongful death lawyer in St. Petersburg will be able to advise you how to style your wrongful death suit in order to take advantage of these complicated laws and definitions.
A wrongful death lawsuit can gain financial compensation for the following damages, as appropriate to the specifics of the case:
- Bills for end of life medical care
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of companionship
- Emotional distress
- Future therapy costs
Beneficiaries of an estate may be entitled to recover lost wages, benefits, and earnings of the deceased person, including potential future amounts that they might have earned had they not died.
In addition to these types of awards, survivors of a decedent are entitled to recover a broader range of damages than beneficiaries, including the value of the support and services they would have received from their loved one had they not died.
Survivors may also seek to recover for the pain and suffering they experienced as a result of their loved one’s death, as well as for the loss of their companionship, guidance and instruction. If a survivor paid for any funeral or medical expenses, they may also be able to recover these amounts as part of the damages awarded in a wrongful death suit.
There are many different requirements and limitations on recovery applying to wrongful death suits that will depend on how the law categorizes your relationship to your deceased loved one. Discussing your specific situation with an experienced St. Petersburg wrongful death attorney will allow you to make informed decisions about the options available to you if you choose to bring a wrongful death suit.
Who Is Entitled To Damages
Florida law contains specific limitations on who may bring a lawsuit seeking to recover damages for the wrongful death of a loved one. The laws governing wrongful death actions can be found in the Wrongful Death Act, Title XLV, Chapter 768.16, Florida Statutes.
When a person dies, their personal belongings and property are referred to as their estate. A specific court of law called a probate court handles the division of the estate. If the deceased person, or decedent, did not leave a valid will specifying their wishes, state law determines who will inherit from the estate. A personal representative is appointed at the beginning of the probate process to represent the decedent’s wishes as the estate is divided
In Florida, a personal representative is entitled to bring a wrongful death claim, provided the circumstances surrounding the decedent’s death meet certain legal requirements. The personal representative is appointed by the probate court if they are not specified in a valid will, and is usually a close relative or child of the person who has passed away.
The personal representative may bring a wrongful death claim on his or her own behalf, or on behalf of any or all of the beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate. The beneficiaries are those people who will inherit from the decedent’s estate, and do not necessarily have to be related to the person who passed away.
In addition to the personal representative, people who fall under the legal definition of survivors of the decedent are also entitled to bring wrongful death claims under Florida law. Survivors include close blood relatives of the decedent, including the decedent’s spouse, their children, their parents, and in some cases, their brothers or sisters.
If you meet the legal requirements to be considered a beneficiary or survivor of your deceased loved one, or if you have been appointed as the personal representative of their estate, you may be able to bring a wrongful death claim to recover damages for their untimely death.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney in St. Petersburg Today
In the wake of a loved one’s passing, the thought of initiating a lawsuit to recover for their wrongful death may seem overwhelming. Our attorneys are well versed in the complicated laws affecting wrongful death claims, and will assist you in exercising your legal rights with compassion and sensitivity.
A St. Petersburg wrongful death attorney will be your advocate in the claims process and ensure you are always properly informed of your rights. Contact us to discuss your legal options today.