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Wrongful Death In Florida: The Basics

We have no shortage of tragedies happening in our country, and while a victim’s family members may be focused on mourning and healing, justice and compensation are also important goals that an experienced wrongful death attorney can help any family navigate.

What is A Wrongful Death Suit?

It is a matter of public policy that the state of Florida burdens the wrongdoer with the costs of the resulting losses when someone dies.

A wrongful death suit is a civil action where those who survive an individual who passed away as a result of the negligence or misconduct of another file suit for monetary damages. Survivors include the decedent’s “spouse, children, parents,” and other blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters who may have been partly or entirely “dependent on the decedent for support or services.”

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

In order to successfully prove a wrongful death case, a claimant must prove that:

  • The death of the decedent was caused by;
  • negligent, reckless, or deliberate behavior;
  • which caused damages that the decedent, had they not died, would have been able to recover compensation for.

Cap on Damages

When attempting to recover on behalf of a decedent in a wrongful death claim, Florida’s Wrongful Death Act does limit the amount a party can recover from a governmental entity to $200,000 due to sovereign immunity, but determines a number of factors when determining how much to award survivors in any event. These factors include:

  • the relationship between the survivor and the deceased
    • A spouse could recover for the loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering from the date of injury
    • A child could recover for lost parental companionship, instruction and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury
    • A parent of a deceased minor child may recover for mental pain and suffering; parents of an adult child may recover if there are no other survivors
    • Each survivor regardless of relation could recover for loss of support and services from date of injury to death and future loss from date of death
    • Medical and funeral expenses may be recovered by the survivor who paid them
  • the extent to which the deceased’s income was available to the survivor
  • replacement value of the deceased’s services
  • life expectancy of all parties

Recovery and Sovereign Immunity

Recovering for damages for the wrongful death of a decedent when a governmental entity is at fault is a slightly different process because of sovereign immunity. The principle of sovereign immunity prevents citizens from suing the government for torts. While sovereign immunity applies to both federal and state governments; it can also be waived by both. When a survivor of a decedent whose wrongful death was a result of action by the state government, the government must waive sovereign immunity to allow for the suit; further, even if the survivor is successful, they cannot obtain a reward of over $200,000.

In 2008, a University of Central Florida student and football player, Enock Plancher, died while participating in conditioning training. Plancher’s parents filed suit against the “direct-support organization” that administered the athletics department and was awarded $10 million by the jury. The District Court later found that the organization was entitled to sovereign immunity, which would have ordinarily only allowed the Planchers to recover $200,000 instead of $10 million.

In an attempt to recover the rest of the money, the Planchers will have to file a claim bill. A claim bill is an actual legislative bill that must be passed by both state level legislative chambers to allow for compensation for losses incurred as a result of “negligence or error of a public officer or agency.”

Wrongful death suits can be complicated and emotionally draining. If someone close to you has passed away as the result of the negligence of another in Clearwater or Tampa, contact Roman & Roman for help navigating your wrongful death suit.

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