Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?


A candle lit in memorial after a wrongful death.


Losing a loved one is devastating to any family, especially if the death happens suddenly and is because of the negligence of another individual or entity. Florida law recognizes the grief, heartache, and hardship that follows after the wrongful death of a loved one and allows surviving family members to take legal action against these responsible parties.

While legal action won’t bring a loved one back, it can help provide you with a sense of justice, knowing that the responsible parties are held accountable. Consulting with an experienced attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be a critical step in your healing process. A wrongful death lawsuit can also help you recover damages from the responsible party and can help ease the burden of any financial stress that results from your loved one’s passing.

What is wrongful death in Florida? 

Under Florida’s legal statutes section 678.18, surviving family members are allowed to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties if an individual is killed in a manner described as a wrongful death. 

For a wrongful death to qualify as such, the victim must have died through a wrongful act, a breach or default of contract, or because of negligence. 

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida

Under Florida law, only one person can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their loved one. This person is typically the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate and is normally chosen while that individual is still alive. If there is no estate plan or will in place, a representative can be appointed after their death. 

When a personal representative files a wrongful death lawsuit, any compensation paid out will go to the victim’s estate and will be allocated toward any survivors. Only beneficiaries and dependants will be eligible to recover damages sought out by the appointed representative. Eligible beneficiaries in a Florida wrongful death claim include: 

  • A spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Dependant family members
  • Children of unmarried parents

What damages can be collected in a wrongful death claim?

A plaintiff filing a wrongful death claim because they have suffered damages from their loved one’s passing will be eligible to collect three types of damages under state statute 768.21. These include economic, non-economic, and, in some cases, punitive damages

Economic damages 

Florida recognizes economic damages as tangible and calculable losses. Economic damages are designed to restore an individual to their financial standing after an injury has taken place. In the case of wrongful death, economic damages include costs the decedent accrued because of their death. Typically, losses associated with economic damages include: 

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • The lost wages because of a decedent 
  • Future earnings or financial benefits the decedent would have received during their normal lifespan

Non-economic damages

Under Fla. Stat. § 768.0415, Florida recognizes non-economic damages as a way to compensate a victim or survivors of a decedent for the immeasurable and intangible losses they’ve suffered. Plaintiffs can seek non-economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit if they have suffered the following losses: 

  • Compensation for the pain of suffering
  • Mental anguish 
  • Loss of consortium (the permanent loss of companionship, comfort, services, and society) 

Punitive damages

Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the victim, their beneficiaries, or dependants for their financial losses or pain and suffering. Instead, punitive damages are designed to hold a responsible party accountable for their negligent behavior. Punitive damages may be awarded if a defendant is found to have acted with wanton disregard for human life or recklessness. Although plaintiffs can seek punitive damages, these damages are rarely granted. 

Who collects damages in a wrongful death lawsuit? 

Spouses and children are, more often than not, the victims who suffer the most after an individual’s passing. For this reason, spouse and children can recover damages, including:

  • Loss of spousal companionship
  • Loss of parental guidance and instruction
  • Loss of financial protection
  • Pain and suffering

It’s important to note that Florida law does not allow a decedent’s fiance to file a wrongful death claim or to be counted as a beneficiary. 

Under Florida law, the court will examine each beneficiary to determine how damages will be allocated. Because of the degree of closeness spouses and children are to the decedent, these beneficiaries typically receive the greatest award. 

However, other factors that determine what allocating damages include: 

  • The level of dependency a beneficiary has on the decedent
  • The age and health of each beneficiary
  • Each beneficiary’s financial standing
  • Each beneficiary’s need for financial support
  • The amount of support or inheritance that is lost because of the victim’s death

How a wrongful death attorney can help 

A candle lit in memorial after a wrongful death.

A wrongful death attorney can help you and your family forge a path forward during what is undoubtedly one of the hardest moments in your life. A wrongful death attorney will help you understand your legal rights and options, can help you establish a robust claim, and will fight for the compensation you and your loved ones deserve. 

Wrongful death claims can easily become complicated. Factors including how the death happened, the negligent party or parties, and whether a will or estate plan existed can add extra layers to confusion. 

When you work with a Tampa wrongful death attorney, you can expect legal advice, including:

  • Guidance on wrongful deaths with complex layers
  • A thorough investigation and build-up of evidence to support a strong claim 
  • Establishing liability and identifying other potential defendants
  • Assessing compensation and the type and amount of damages you may be entitled to 
  • Negotiating on your behalf with insurance companies and other parties and their legal teams 
  • Presenting strong and convincing evidence if your case goes to court 
  • Bringing forward credible witnesses
  • Providing you with emotional support and connecting you with critical resources to help in your path of healing

A wrongful death attorney can help you understand how Florida law applies to your loved one’s case and will weed out all the details of your claim. 


Fla. Stat. § 768.0415.

Fla. Stat. § 768.21.

Fla. Stat. Section 678.18.

Click to Call