Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Florida

Preventable injuries like car accidents, poisoning, and falls represent the majority of accidental deaths in the US. The National Safety Council reported that almost half of the preventable injury-related fatalities in the US are from poisoning. Meanwhile, car accidents accounted for 21 percent or 42,399 deaths. Falls, on the other hand, resulted in more than 42,000 fatalities.

The National Center for Health Statistics data indicates that accidents are a leading cause of death in Florida. The state placed second with the most recorded fatalities in 2020 at 16,000. California takes first place with 18,357.

These numbers make it critical to know about wrongful death claims as a legal option for survivors. If a family member is a victim of wrongful death, immediately seek the services of a personal injury lawyer. 

Law firms typically offer free consultations for interested clients. Legal representation ensures that survivors can recover fair compensation for their losses.

Key Takeaways
  • Survivors may file a Florida wrongful death case within two years of a victim’s death.
  • Only a personal representative may file a wrongful death case in Florida.
  • Beneficiaries may recover economic and non-economic damages from a wrongful death claim.

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

What is wrongful death?

Wrongful death describes the demise of a person due to another person’s unlawful act. It includes actions that are negligent, intentional, and criminal. 

Wrongful death gives rise to a civil cause of action. Survivors of decedents like dependents and family members may file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Civil action should not be confused with criminal cases. Civil actions are noncriminal lawsuits between private parties, although they may arise from criminal acts. 

For example, a person dies in the execution of a crime, such as a hit-and-run, assault, or battery. Civil actions do not result in imprisonment. Instead, they only seek to recover monetary damages for violating a victim’s rights.

In contrast, a public prosecutor charges a person with a crime in criminal cases. When a court determines a person is guilty of a crime, they may be subject to imprisonment. The court may also require them to pay a fine, render community service, or a combination of all three consequences.

Survivors of a deceased person can file a wrongful death action against a person facing criminal charges for the same unlawful act. If the court finds the perpetrator not guilty of the criminal act, they may still be liable for wrongful death.

Personal Injury vs. Survival Action vs. Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Personal injury, survival action, and wrongful death lawsuits describe three unique legal options. They have similarities, but they are distinct from each other.

Knowing which approach a personal representative and the personal injury lawyer will employ for a situation is crucial. Each type of lawsuit considers different factors that influence the value of damages they may claim.

Personal injury lawsuit

A personal injury lawsuit covers bodily injuries and property damage from a preventable accident. Contrary to wrongful death lawsuits, it does not require the death of a victim because of another’s wrongful act. 

In addition, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits may arise from the same accidents. They include medical malpractice, car accidents, workplace accidents, etc. The main difference is that the victim is still alive and will receive any compensation awarded.

Wrongful death lawsuit

In a wrongful death lawsuit, claimants seek to recover financial compensation for their losses from the death of a family member. Personal injury lawsuits seek to compensate the victim for their injuries due to the liable party’s reckless act. 

In contrast, wrongful death lawsuits define injuries as those suffered by the deceased person’s estate. It includes loss of consortium, loss of parental guidance, etc.

Survival action lawsuit

Survival action lawsuits seek damages for the pain and trauma a deceased person suffered from the defendant’s wrongful acts. For instance, a car accident seriously injured a pedestrian who died in a hospital a few months later. 

A survival action lawsuit does not seek to hold the defendant liable for the person’s death. Instead, it keeps the perpetrator accountable for the deceased person’s medical bills, pain and suffering, and other expenses. Survival action lawsuits cover the injuries and losses incurred from the accident until the victim’s death.

In Florida, survival actions do not die with the person. However,  claimants cannot recover damages for both survival actions and wrongful death. They must choose one or the other. 

Florida Wrongful Death Claims

Section 768.19 of the Florida Statutes details the right of action for filing a wrongful death claim. A deceased person’s representative can sue if death is due to negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty. 

In other words, a wrongful death claim must bear these factors to be valid:

  • A person’s negligent or intentional behavior caused another’s death.
  • Surviving family members suffered from injuries related to the death.

Wrongful death claims may arise from various reasons, such as the following:

Negligent acts

Most personal injury and wrongful death claims base their case on negligent acts or behavior. Claimants must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant had a duty to act with reason and care
  • The defendant breached that duty
  • The breach directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries

The duty of care is the most critical element in negligence claims. The victim must prove that the perpetrator must act in a way that protects other people’s safety. For example, drivers must drive responsibly on roadways, and governments must maintain public roads to protect road users.

In addition, there are various instances wherein a negligent act may result in wrongful death. It includes reckless driving resulting in an accident fatality or a person falling to death on uneven steps in a store.

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice happens when a medical professional or a healthcare provider neglects to provide adequate and appropriate treatment to patients. Similarly, they might also omit to take proper action or give substandard medical treatment to the victim. Plaintiffs must prove that these actions caused the patient injury, harm, or death.

Various scenarios give rise to medical malpractice. Some examples include:

  • Surgical malpractice
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Robotic surgery malpractice
  • Anesthesia errors 
  • Hospital malpractice
  • Medication errors

Defective products and dangerous premises

A wrongful death may also result from defective products or dangerous premises. For example, a vehicle malfunction causes a car accident, or someone slips and falls in a mall.

These scenarios fall under the scope of product and premises liability laws. Product liability laws protect those who suffer injuries from design, manufacturing, or marketing defects. They also cover breach of warranty, a type of breach of contract.

  • Design defects represent flaws in product conceptualization when there are safer alternatives.
  • Manufacturing defects are those committed in the fabrication of the product. In most cases, manufacturing flaws occur in products manufactured in the same batch.
  • Marketing defects describe the lack or omission of proper warnings for consumers about how to use a product.
  • Breach of warranty refers to a situation where a product sold or marketed by a company fails to meet the promises or claims made about it, whether expressed or implied.

On the other hand, premises liability laws cover accidents resulting from unsafe property conditions.

In most cases, the property owner knew about dangerous conditions on the property but did not deal with them appropriately. For example, the property owner executed repairs but in a way that did not make it safer. In that case, they may still be liable for an accident.

This rule also applies to public properties and roadways. Suppose a poorly maintained road or a broken traffic signal caused a car accident. Then, the government may be liable if the responsible entity was aware of the problem but did not rectify it.

Intentional criminal acts

Intentional acts resulting in fatalities may also be grounds for a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death lawsuits for intentional criminal acts typically come after a criminal trial, although not necessarily. You can file a wrongful death claim even without criminal charges. 

Civil case plaintiffs may use the same evidence presented in a criminal case. However, they may have different outcomes. Wrongful death suits have a lower standard of proof than a criminal case.

Let’s take the example of the O.J. Simpson case regarding the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. The jury found Simpson not guilty of the criminal charges against him. 

However, the families of the two victims filed lawsuits for wrongful death. The jury found him liable and awarded the plaintiffs $33.5 million in damages.

What is the statute of limitations for Florida wrongful death lawsuits?

Section 95.11 of the Florida Statutes requires a representative to file a wrongful death claim within two years after the victim’s death. However, there are exceptions to this rule. 

For instance, suppose a government entity is the alleged liable party for wrongful death. The claimant must notify the government about the intent to sue within three years and has four years to file a claim. In medical malpractice cases, a representative may file a claim within two years after the survivors identify the cause of death.

Florida has no statute of limitations for intentional criminal acts like murder or manslaughter. The Jeffrey Klee Memorial Act enacted In 2010 eliminated the time limit to pursue a civil suit for homicide.

Only One Person May File a Wrongful Death Case

Most states allow close family members such as a spouse, parent, or child to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, under Florida Statute Section 768.20, only a deceased person’s personal representative has that right. 

However, the personal representative is not necessarily the beneficiary. Instead, recovered damages go to the decedent’s estate and survivors. 

The personal representative is typically the executor named in a decedent’s will or estate plan. In the absence of a will, the probate court may appoint one, typically the surviving spouse.

Beneficiaries of a Florida Wrongful Death Claim

Insurance companies provide financial compensation to the deceased’s surviving family members. It includes the spouse, children, parents, dependent family members, and children of unmarried parents.

Section 768.18 defines survivors as the following: 

  • Spouse
  • Children under the age of 25
  • All children, regardless of age, if there is no surviving spouse
  • Parents
  • Blood relatives who are dependent on the decedent for support, including adoptive siblings
  • Illegitimate children of a mother 
  • Illegitimate children of a father who has recognized them as his responsibility to support 

Furthermore, if a minor or incompetent person is the sole beneficiary and has no parent or legal guardian, Section 768.23 kicks in. It states it will protect their interests according to the Florida Guardianship Law. This law appoints a third party to make personal and financial decisions for minors or adults with physical or mental disabilities.

Suppose a child receives damages or inheritance that exceeds the amount allowed by law. Then, they may be subject to a guardian until they reach the age of 25.

Damages You May Recover From a Florida Wrongful Death Claim

Survivors of a deceased person may receive financial compensation for their losses with a wrongful death claim.

According to Section 768.21:

“[E]ach survivor may recover the value of lost support and services from the decedent’s injury to her or his death, with interest, and future loss of support and services from the date of death and reduced to present value.”

Beneficiaries may receive non-economic damages for the following injuries or losses:

  • Spouses: loss of companionship and protection, and for mental anguish
  • Children: loss of parental guidance, instruction, and companionship, and mental anguish
  • Parents: mental anguish, pain, and suffering

Wrongful death claims may also compensate for economic damages, like medical bills and funeral expenses.

Did you know?

The statute of limitations for the same event in wrongful death and personal injury claims might fall on different dates. For example, a person sustained injuries from an accident and was hospitalized for a month until death. In that case, the statute of limitations does not begin on the day of the accident. Instead, it starts right after the victim dies from their injuries.

Why You Need a Reliable Personal Injury Attorney

Wrongful death claims might be confusing or exhausting for those inexperienced with legal matters. However, personal injury lawyers are adept at navigating legal processes. Leaving your case with the experts will give you peace of mind and more time to attend to other things.

The Personal Injury Center has a network of accomplished wrongful death lawyers. They have the knowledge and expertise to assist you with your claim and help your family recover maximum compensation.

You may also read their expansive collection of articles that will shed more light on your legal concerns.

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

Seek the help of a Florida wrongful death attorney for your case. Contact The Personal Injury Center to find a lawyer for you. 

FAQs on Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations in Florida

Going to court is the last resort for wrongful death claims. Surviving family members have two out-of-court options to settle their wrongful death claim: mediation and arbitration.

Mediation describes the negotiation of terms outside of court with a professional mediator. They listen to both parties and offer recommendations on settling the case. Meanwhile, a judge listens to both sides in a series of meetings in an arbitration.

In binding arbitrations, a judge determines the best approach for the case. They may rule in favor of the defendant or the plaintiff. In some cases, there are non-binding arbitrations. It is where both parties may proceed to trial if they disagree with the judge's verdict.

Suppose a Florida court finds the defendant guilty of particularly intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Then they may award the plaintiff punitive damages as a form of punishment to the defendant. This rule does not apply to all wrongful death claims and depends on the factors of each case.

In most cases, lawyers may offer various fee arrangements for wrongful death cases. However, Section 768.26 of the Florida Statutes is quite specific. It states that the representative shall deduct the lawyer's fees and other litigation expenses from the damages recovered.