Dealing with a loved one’s unexpected death can be traumatic. When this death is not a natural one, but instead one caused by another person’s negligent or reckless behavior, it can be hard to know what to do next or how to put the pieces back together.
In many cases, surviving family members can seek financial compensation from the responsible party or parties by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Learn more about how a wrongful death lawsuit works its way through Florida’s legal system and what to expect when filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Case?
In general, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed whenever the decedent could have—if he or she had lived—filed a personal injury lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the personal representative of the estate of the deceased person.
Under Florida law, a wrongful death case can be brought by the decedent’s personal representative to recover for the benefit of the decedent’s estate and the decedent’s survivors, which can include the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters. The decedent’s survivors also include children born out of wedlock of a mother, but not children born out of wedlock of the father unless the father has recognized a responsibility for the child’s support.
When Must a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Claim Be Filed?
The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in Florida is two years. This means that if the lawsuit isn’t filed within two years of the decedent’s death, the surviving family members may be permanently barred from recovering financial damages, even if the responsible party admits liability.
There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if the defendant deceived surviving family members, police, regulatory bodies like medical licensing boards, or others in an attempt to hide their own negligent conduct, this statute of limitations may be “tolled” (or paused) until this conduct comes to light. While these situations are relatively uncommon, it’s important to hire a wrongful death attorney quickly to make sure all relevant deadlines are met.
How Much Time Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?
After a lawsuit is filed, it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years or longer to resolve. After a plaintiff files a wrongful death complaint, the defendant (and any other potentially liable parties, like the defendant’s insurer) must file an answer admitting or denying liability and raise any affirmative defenses like self-defense or comparative negligence.
Once the allegations and defenses are on the table, the parties will then engage in discovery—requesting documents, sworn statements, and other evidence to boost (or refute) the claims being made. This can include taking depositions of key witnesses, requesting and reviewing medical reports, and engaging expert witnesses to give their opinions on what led to the decedent’s death.
Unlike courtroom dramas on television or in the movies, there’s no “trial by ambush”. By the time a case goes to trial, each side knows what allegations will be raised, what evidence will be presented to support them, and what defenses will be raised to rebut against the claims.
What If I Want To Settle the Case Quickly After an Accident?
At any point during the process, the parties can engage in settlement negotiations. In fact, trial judges will often initially refer these cases to mediation to see whether the matter can be worked out without the court’s intervention. Plaintiffs benefit by enlisting an attorney to review any settlement offers and determine whether they’re adequate.