In Florida, wrongful death settlement proceeds are divided based on the type of damages and among each surviving family member of the victim.
A wrongful death settlement includes economic, noneconomic and even punitive damages in some cases. By state law, the proceeds are distributed in a fair and equitable way. Typically, they include medical expenses, lost wages, funeral and burial expenses and more. In many cases, a jury determines the damages and how they should be distributed among the victim’s survivors.
What’s Considered Wrongful Death in Florida?
In Florida, wrongful death occurs when a person is killed as a direct result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness or intentional act of violence. Wrongful death is a civil, rather than criminal, matter. However, depending on the circumstances, some cases can result in a separate criminal action being taken against the defendant as well.
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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?
Although some states allow the victim’s immediate surviving family members such as their spouse, child or parent to file a wrongful death claim, this is not the case in Florida. Florida law requires the decedent’s personal representative to file a lawsuit on the surviving family’s behalf. However, certain family members are entitled to damages once a wrongful death claim has been filed. They include the adult children of the deceased person, the decedent’s spouse, minor children, parents of the deceased in some cases, blood relatives or other heirs in some cases, adopted children, children born out of wedlock and any household dependents.
Adult Children of Deceased Person
Adult children of the decedent are entitled to damages from a wrongful death lawsuit. However, they generally do not receive as high of a settlement portion as minor children under 25 years of age because they are usually not dependent on the victim.
Spouse of Deceased Person
In most cases, the spouse of a wrongful death victim is the first one entitled to damages in a successful lawsuit. If the couple has children, the surviving spouse and children recover splits of the settlement. Damages the spouse recovers typically include economic damages from the time of the victim’s injury or death and noneconomic damages such as loss of companionship, loss of consortium and more.
Minor children can recover a larger share of a settlement from a wrongful death lawsuit than their adult siblings. Children of the decedent are considered minors when they are younger than 25. This is because they are fully dependent on their parents for financial support, guidance and care.
Parents of the Deceased Person (in some cases)
In some cases, the parents of the deceased person are able to recover damages from a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim was an unmarried adult who had no children, their parents can recover compensation. Parents of a minor child killed due to a wrongful death situation can also recover damages as a result of the losses they have suffered. Those losses include both economic and noneconomic damages and potentially, punitive damages.
Blood Relatives or Other Heirs (in some cases)
If the victim of a wrongful death situation is unmarried, has no children and their parents are deceased, other blood relatives or even other heirs can recover damages if the lawsuit succeeds. This can include the decedent’s surviving siblings, grandparents or other relatives. In some cases, even a very close friend may be able to recover compensation from the lawsuit if the victim had an estate plan naming them.
Adoptive children are also able to receive part of a wrongful death settlement. Just as biological children are entitled to economic and noneconomic damages, adopted children are as well.
Children Born Out of Wedlock
If the victim of wrongful death has children out of wedlock, those children can recover compensation from a successful lawsuit. If the child was dependent on their deceased parent for financial support, guidance, love and other things, they are just as entitled to damages from the loss as children born within a marriage.
Anyone living in the victim’s household who was dependent on them is also able to recover compensation in a wrongful death claim. If the decedent provided financial support, housing and other types of support, these individuals are entitled to damages stemming from the victim’s death.
Types of Damages Awarded in Wrongful Death Settlements in Florida
There are different types of damages awarded in successful Florida wrongful death settlements. They include economic damages such as medical expenses and burial costs, funeral expenses, loss of income and earning capacity, noneconomic damages like loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering, damages for special circumstances such as parental loss of companionship and punitive damages in some cases. Other damages that can be awarded in wrongful death settlements in Florida are funeral expenses, loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering.
Economic damages in a Florida wrongful death settlement are things that carry specific monetary amounts, making them easy to calculate. Medical expenses, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity and funeral and burial expenses are some of the most common economic damages surviving family members can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Medical Expenses and Burial Costs
Medical expenses are easy to calculate in a wrongful death case. If the victim lived for a period of time prior to their passing, they might have spent time in the hospital and received continuous medical treatment or supportive care. The expenses leading up to the victim’s death are factored into the wrongful death settlement through the accrued medical bills.
Burial costs are also recoverable in a wrongful death settlement. In some cases, these funds might come from the victim’s surviving spouse or another surviving family member.
Funeral expenses are another part of the economic damages recoverable to the surviving family in a wrongful death lawsuit. Along with burial expenses, these damages can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars range, which is burdensome for many families, especially when the deceased was someone they relied on for financial support.
Loss of Income and Earning Capacity
When a person dies as a result of wrongful death, additional economic damages their family can recover in a successful lawsuit are loss of income and earning capacity. If the victim’s survivors depended on their income for financial support, they can claim these damages due to the hardship it creates for them.
Noneconomic damages are those the surviving family of a wrongful death victim experiences as a result of their unfathomable loss. These are things that cannot be given a specific dollar amount and include damages like loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering.
Loss of Companionship
Florida allows the survivors of a wrongful death victim to recover loss of companionship damages. Typically, these damages go to the decedent’s spouse. By state law, loss of companionship is considered the same as loss of consortium, another type of noneconomic damage sometimes claimed in wrongful death claims.
Mental Pain and Suffering
In Florida wrongful death settlements, the victim’s surviving spouse is also able to recover compensation for mental pain and suffering due to their loss. This is another noneconomic damage that holds no price tag, but it is determined by a jury.
All wrongful death cases are different, and sometimes, special circumstances may apply. Those can include damages such as parental loss of companionship or punitive damages.
Parental Loss of Companionship (in some cases)
In some cases, Florida wrongful death cases allow parents to recover damages as a direct result of the loss of their unmarried children. If an adult child dies due to wrongful death, their parents may be able to claim parental loss of companionship. These damages include loss of comfort and service.
Punitive Damages (in some cases)
Depending on the circumstances of a wrongful death situation, the victim’s surviving family members may receive punitive damages as part of their settlement. This is possible when a victim is killed due to intentional violence or egregious recklessness. Punitive damages are not awarded to make the surviving family members whole, but rather, to punish the defendant for their outrageous behavior or conduct.
Medical Expenses and Burial Costs
Medical expenses and burial costs are economic in nature because they can be proven with invoices and other documentation. They are key components of wrongful death settlements the victim’s surviving family members are entitled to in a successful case.
Funeral Expenses, Loss of Companionship and Mental Pain and Suffering
A victim’s survivors are able to recover compensation for funeral expenses, loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering in a wrongful death case. Funeral expenses count toward economic damages while loss of companionship and the surviving family members’ mental pain and suffering are considered noneconomic damages. These can be included in cases involving special circumstances such as the loss of a child or when the victim was murdered.
Loss of Income and Earning Capacity
If the victim of wrongful death in a case with special circumstances helped to financially support their surviving family members, the family can seek damages like loss of income and earning capacity.
Parental Loss of Companionship (in some cases)
Parents of an adult child killed as a result of extreme recklessness or violence are able to include parental loss of companionship as part of their damages in a wrongful death case.
Punitive Damages (in some cases)
Punitive damages can be recovered if the jury finds that the defendant acted outrageously and should be punished.
Factors Considered in Evaluating Losses
Various factors are considered when losses stemming from a wrongful death case are evaluated. They include the victim’s age, educational background, job and income, potential career advancements and retirement or pension benefits.
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How Are Proceeds Divided?
In a wrongful death settlement decided by a jury, the proceeds are divided in a certain way. It can be a distribution by court order or distribution by agreement between the parties involved.
Distribution by Court Order
Factors determining how this happens include whether all the survivors are adults or if the victim had any minor children. In the former situation, the family members may be able to receive a fair division. When minor children are involved, the court may appoint a guardian to handle the funds from the settlement so the child can receive them once they reach the age of majority.
Distribution by Agreement Between Parties Involved
In some cases, the parties in a wrongful death case reach an agreement without going to court. In that situation, the agreement involves how the settlement money is divided among the victim’s survivors.
How Long Does it Take to Get Paid After a Settlement Has Been Determined?
Generally, it can take four to six weeks for a wrongful death settlement to be paid. The survivors can also decide whether they want their settlement paid out in a lump sum or in structured settlement payments. A lump sum pays all of the money up-front. Structured settlement payments are paid out monthly or annually and allow for a steady stream of income.
Is There a Priority Order for Wrongful Death Benefits in Florida?
In Florida, the victim’s surviving spouse and children are the first priority to receive wrongful death benefits. Other family members may follow that order based on whether the decedent provided them with support and services.
Importance of Legal Representation in Wrongful Death Cases in Florida
Having legal representation in a Florida wrongful death case is crucial. In many cases, this category of personal injury law is complex and requires the assistance of an attorney who knows how to handle various aspects of the case.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Can You Get for a Wrongful Death in Florida?
In Florida, you can recover an average of $500,000 to $1 million in a wrongful death settlement.
How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work in Florida?
Wrongful death settlements are equally distributed among beneficiaries in Florida. If the adult survivors agree on how to split the proceeds, the court will agree and make it official.
Who Are the Beneficiaries of Wrongful Death in Florida?
In Florida, the surviving spouse, children and parents are beneficiaries in wrongful death cases.
Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death in Florida?
Florida doesn’t impose caps on wrongful death settlements.
What Is the Highest Settlement for Wrongful Death?
The highest settlement for wrongful death was $2.64 billion. It was awarded to the parents of a young man, Tyler Thomas, who was killed by a fellow college student.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take in Florida?
Florida wrongful death cases don’t carry any set time to settle. All cases differ; the circumstances surrounding them determine how long the lawsuit takes. Some cases settle quickly while others have to go to trial.
What Is Pain and Suffering Wrongful Death in Florida?
Pain and suffering in Florida wrongful death cases refers to the grief and depression the victim’s survivors experience. It’s a type of noneconomic damage recoverable in wrongful death cases.
What Are the Defenses for Wrongful Death in Florida?
Florida wrongful death defenses include causation, comparative negligence and imputed comparative negligence.
What Happens to a Lawsuit in Florida When the Plaintiff Dies?
If a plaintiff in a Florida lawsuit dies, the legal action passes to that person’s heirs.
What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement in the U.S.?
The average wrongful death settlement in the U.S. is $500,000 to $1 million.
How Do I Prove Wrongful Death in Florida?
To prove wrongful death in Florida, you must show that the defendant’s negligence, recklessness or deliberate act caused the victim’s death.
What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Action in Florida?
Although wrongful death concentrates on losses suffered by the victim’s family, a survival action focuses on a lawsuit the decedent would have been able to file had they lived.
Who Are the Statutory Survivors in Florida Wrongful Death?
Statutory survivors in Florida wrongful death cases are the victim’s spouse and parents.
What if the Beneficiary of a Will Has Died Florida?
If the beneficiary of a will dies in Florida, the contingent or secondary beneficiary receives the inheritance.