Losing a loved one is an indescribable tragedy, more so when the loss results from someone else’s negligence or wrongful act. In South Florida, wrongful death claims are a critical aspect of the legal system, providing a pathway for families to seek justice and compensation.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a specific type of legal action that is brought forward when an individual’s death results from another party’s wrongful act, negligence, default, breach of contract, or breach of warranty. This claim is not just a matter of law but also a crucial process for seeking justice and closure for the bereaved family. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what encompasses a wrongful death claim:
- Wrongful acts could include intentional acts such as murder or manslaughter.
- In legal terms, negligence refers to the failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation. Examples include careless driving or medical malpractice.
- Default or breach refers to failure to fulfill a legal obligation or duty, such as breaching safety protocols.
- Breach of contract or warranty might occur if a product or service leads to death due to not meeting the agreed terms of safety or functionality.
In South Florida, as per Florida Statutes section 768.19, the wrongful death claim is typically initiated by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. This representative could be named in the deceased’s will or estate plan or appointed by the court if no representative is designated. The claim is filed on behalf of the deceased’s survivors, who may include:
- Spouses, children, and parents of the deceased.
- Any blood relative or adoptive sibling who is “partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services.
The compensation in wrongful death claims can include:
- Economic damages which include medical and funeral expenses lost support and services, and potential future earnings of the deceased.
- Non-economic damages cover emotional pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of parental guidance.
- In cases of gross negligence or intentional harm, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the wrongdoer.
Legal Steps You Should Take
Here are eight legal steps typically involved in pursuing a wrongful death claim:
Step 1: Determine Legal Standing
Identifying the appropriate party to file a wrongful death claim is the first crucial step. Legal standing typically belongs to the deceased’s immediate family members, such as spouses, children, or parents. In some cases, other relatives or a representative of the deceased’s estate, appointed in the will or by the court, may also have the right to file the claim.
This step requires a thorough understanding of state-specific laws, as eligibility can vary. The representative not only files the claim but also represents the interests of all eligible survivors.
Step 2: Consult with a Qualified Wrongful Death Claim Attorney in Florida
Engaging a qualified personal injury attorney in wrongful death cases is vital. A personal injury lawsuit lawyer brings guidance in navigating the complex legal landscape of wrongful death claims, including understanding state laws, interpreting case precedents, and providing strategic legal advice. They will also handle all aspects of the claim, from filing to representation in court, and advise on the likelihood of success based on the specifics of the case.
Step 3: Conduct a Thorough Investigation
A comprehensive investigation is fundamental in building a strong wrongful death claim. This involves gathering all pertinent evidence related to the incident, such as police and accident reports, medical records, autopsy reports, eyewitness statements, and expert testimonies (from medical professionals, accident reconstructionists, etc.). This evidence is crucial to establish the facts of the case and to support the claim of wrongful death.
Step 4: Establish Liability
Establishing liability is the cornerstone of a wrongful death claim. This step involves demonstrating that the death resulted from another party’s wrongful act, negligence, or breach of duty. Key to this step is proving the existence of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the deceased, a breach of this duty, and a direct causal link between the breach and the death. This often requires intricate legal arguments and substantial evidence.
Step 5: Calculate Damages
Calculating the damages in a wrongful death claim involves quantifying the financial and emotional impact of the death. This includes tangible losses like medical expenses prior to death, funeral and burial costs, lost wages and benefits (including future earnings the deceased would have provided), and the value of services and support the deceased would have contributed. Non-economic damages, although more challenging to quantify, such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship, guidance, and emotional distress of the survivors, are also factored in.
Step 6: File the Wrongful Death Claim
Filing the claim is a procedural step that requires adherence to specific legal rules. The claim must be filed within the statute of limitations, which varies by state, and in the appropriate court jurisdiction. The claim should include a detailed legal complaint outlining the basis of the claim, the parties involved, the evidence supporting the claim, and the damages being sought.
Step 7: Engage in Settlement Negotiations
Settlement negotiations are a critical phase where a resolution might be reached without going to trial. This involves discussions and negotiations with the defendant or their insurance company. Skilled personal injury lawyers will negotiate to reach a settlement that adequately compensates for the losses incurred due to the wrongful death. This process requires strategic negotiation skills, as it aims to secure a fair settlement while avoiding the uncertainties of a trial.
Step 8: Proceed to Trial if Necessary
If a settlement is not reached, the case proceeds to trial. Preparing for trial involves finalizing all evidentiary submissions, witness testimonies, and legal arguments. During the trial, both sides present their case, and a judge or jury evaluates the evidence and arguments before making a decision. Trials can be lengthy and complex, requiring meticulous preparation and compelling presentation of the case.
Each of these steps requires careful consideration and expert legal handling to ensure that the wrongful death claim is pursued effectively, giving the bereaved family the best chance of obtaining justice and fair compensation for their loss.
Seeking Justice and Closure with the Morgan Law Group
The loss of a loved one is an irreplaceable void. While no amount of compensation can bring back a loved one, pursuing a wrongful death claim in South Florida can offer a sense of justice and financial stability during a difficult time. It is essential to seek the assistance of qualified personal injury attorneys to guide you through this challenging process.
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, don’t hesitate to seek legal help. Remember, time is of the essence in these cases. Reach out to a trusted and experienced injury and accident lawyer today to explore your legal options and take the first step toward seeking justice for your loved one.