Wrongful deaths are preventable, premature deaths occurring because of the actions or inactions of others. Wrongful death settlements are financial payments made to resolve a wrongful death claim. Pursuing a wrongful death settlement can protect minor children, spouses, and other dependents from financial hardship. While a wrongful death settlement won’t bring back your loved one, a settlement also provides compensation for the personal impact of your loss.
Although wrongful deaths are premature, preventable deaths, not all premature, preventable deaths qualify for a wrongful death suit; in some cases, a premature, preventable death could be ruled an accidental death. Suppose a person decides to remove tree limbs damaged in a storm. They stand below the limb and use a chainsaw to cut it off. The limb lands on them, causing their death. Their accidental death resulted from their actions, and there are no grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful deaths must result from another party’s negligence, breach of contract, or intentional act.
Everyone in society is expected to act in a socially-acceptable manner. Acceptable behavior involves avoiding harm to others or property or avoiding actions that would cause harm. When people don’t act in a manner intended to avoid harm to others or property, they can be found negligent. Proving negligence can be crucial when pursuing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
You may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit if the person responsible for the death was guilty of breach of contract. Breach of contract refers to failing to uphold an agreement.
Suppose your family decides to rent a house. An old shed on the property looks like it’s about to fall over. You negotiate with the landlord, and they agree to remove the shed before you move in. When moving day arrives, the shed is still on the property, and the landlord makes excuses. A week later, the shed’s still there. When the shed collapses, your spouse is doing yard work, and a beam strikes their head. Your spouse dies from their injuries. Since their injuries stemmed from the landlord’s breach of contract, you have grounds to file a wrongful death claim.
Assault and battery are among the most common causes of wrongful death cases in the United States. When someone dies after another person deliberately harms them, their family can file a wrongful death suit to recover damages. The person responsible may face homicide, manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, or assault charges in a criminal court. However, they’ll answer for the wrongful death charges in civil court.
Victims can sue their attackers if another person’s unlawful actions harm them. If the victim dies, their family can file a wrongful death suit to recover damages.
The wrongful death settlement is the amount the claimant receives through a settlement offer before trial. Although some states cap the compensation claimants seek, Florida does not cap wrongful death settlements.
It’s impossible to identify an average wrongful death settlement amount in Florida. Each case is unique, and multiple factors determine the amount claimants receive, such as Florida’s comparative fault rules and whether there are grounds to seek punitive damages.
Suppose two people die in separate fatal car accidents in Tampa. Person A dies after being struck by a drunk driver who ran a red light. Person B dies after being hit by a delivery driver who ran a red light.
In both cases, the claimants may have grounds to sue multiple parties. An investigation could reveal that Person A had been served alcohol at a bar but was underage. The claimant may have grounds to sue the bar or bartender because serving a minor contributed to Person A’s death. However, suppose Person A was of age and drinking alone at home before getting behind the wheel. In that case, the driver may be solely responsible.
Suppose an investigation reveals that the company that owns the vehicle involved in Person B’s death suffered brake failure. If maintenance reports prove the company knew the brakes were faulty and didn’t replace them, the company could be liable.
Under Florida’s comparative fault rules, a judgment is divided against the at-fault parties based on their percentage of blame. Technically, this means that the number of defendants doesn’t impact the amount awarded in a wrongful death case. However, if a business is one of the defendants, they may be more likely to settle the case to avoid negative press. Since they’re motivated to settle, they may be willing to offer a higher settlement payout to resolve the case quickly.
Some claimants can seek punitive damages. Judgments include punitive damages when the at-fault party’s actions or inactions qualify as gross negligence. Gross negligence applies when the at-fault party doesn’t deliberately set out to harm another person but behaves in a way they know is likely to cause harm.
Suppose someone initiated a street race in a school zone during afternoon dismissal. School zones highlight the need for driver caution because of the area’s volume of children, pedestrians, and vehicles. Breaking traffic laws in this manner would meet the standard for gross negligence if the street race caused someone’s death.
Punitive damages also apply to wrongful deaths caused by deliberate actions, such as homicide.
It’s possible to settle some wrongful death cases in months, while others can take years. When the at-fault party is motivated to resolve the case quickly, they’re more likely to offer a reasonable settlement or negotiate with the claimant’s wrongful death lawyer. However, if there are multiple defendants, they may try to mitigate their liability to reduce the amount they must pay.
The case could go to trial if the at-fault party’s insurance company offers a low settlement amount and won’t negotiate. Those liable at trial must pay a judgment; however, defendants can appeal judgments. In those cases, it can take several years to receive compensation.
Florida courts name the personal representative of a decedent’s estate after they die. The decedent’s personal representative can initiate a wrongful death lawsuit.
In some cases, the decedent identifies a personal representative in their will. If the decedent had no will or named a personal representative who could not fulfill the role, the courts would select a personal representative for the estate.
The personal representative may or may not be a family member. They must be 18 or older and live in Florida to serve as personal representatives for a decedent in that state.
You can sue any party responsible for wrongful death. Wrongful death lawsuit defendants could include the following:
Suing the government is challenging. Government employees may have qualified immunity, protecting them from liability.
In addition to whether comparative fault rules and punitive damages apply, several other factors determine wrongful death settlement amounts.
Although some claimants can’t seek punitive damages, all claimants have grounds to seek monetary and non-monetary damages.
Monetary damages—also called economic damages—offer compensation for costs related to the decedent’s death. The bills or anticipated financial losses are added to determine the amount sought. Monetary damages can include compensation for several costs, including the following:
Non-monetary damages are often called non-economic damages. These damages award financial compensation for the personal impact of the decedent’s death. Claimants can seek compensation for the following:
Some cases go to trial because the claimant believes they’ll receive more compensation from a judgment. However, there’s no guarantee the claimant will receive a higher amount, and they will incur more legal expenses if the case goes to trial. This is one reason many claimants are motivated to settle, even if it means accepting less than they hoped to receive.
Criminal acts can increase the at-fault party’s liability because they provide grounds to seek punitive damages.
Insurance companies pay wrongful death settlements in most cases. Policyholders don’t have unlimited funds available through their insurance plans. Although a claimant may receive a settlement or judgment that exceeds the insurance payout, they must collect the difference from the at-fault party. Collecting the difference can be challenging or impossible if the at-fault party goes to jail or lacks the funds.
Claimants must file their wrongful death lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. Florida’s wrongful death statute of limitations is 24 months from the date of death.
Wrongful death settlements may be larger than personal injury claims. Each case has unique factors determining the amount of compensation available.
Suppose a wrongful death case involves an eighty-nine-year-old widow without children or surviving family members, and a personal injury case involves a thirty-five-year-old single father with three minor children. The father’s injuries cause a disability; he must use a wheelchair and can’t return to his career. The personal injury case could result in a higher settlement because of the cost of home modifications, assistive devices, special equipment, loss of income, and job retraining.
The decedent’s personal representative ensures the wrongful death settlement is distributed among the decedent’s beneficiaries per their will or the court’s ruling. The amount beneficiaries receive depends on the number of beneficiaries, settlement amount, and stipulations in the will.
Florida does not tax wrongful death settlements. Claimants also do not have to pay federal taxes on wrongful death settlements.
The aftermath of a loved one’s death can be frightening and overwhelming. You may be consumed with funeral and burial plans and coping with traumatized family members while struggling with grief.
Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys are here to help you through this stressful time. We’ll launch an investigation to identify those responsible for your loved one’s death and collect the evidence needed to prove fault. We’ll look after the legal paperwork, answer your questions, negotiate with the insurance companies, and explain your options every step of the way. Our goal is to ensure you receive the maximum compensation available.
Gross Negligence. (2023).
Kenton, W. (2023). Breach of Contract Explained: Types and Consequences.
Qualified Immunity. (2021).