How Long Do Wrongful Death Cases Take?
Dealing with the untimely death of a beloved family member is one of the most difficult situations anyone can experience. When their death was the result of negligence or inaction on the part of another, whether an individual or a company, the family must deal with the added complication of taking legal action by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful Death in Florida
A wrongful death claim is a civil action brought by the estate (usually surviving family members) of someone who died due to the actions of, or lack of action by, another party. Florida law defines these actions as “wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person.”
Some examples of wrongful death cases include:
- Automobile accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Trucking accidents
- Slip and fall cases
- Work-related accidents or diseases
- Product liability
- Medical malpractice
Who Can File?
Any personal representative named by the deceased’s will or estate may file a wrongful death claim under Florida law. In the event that no such representative is designated, the court will appoint one following the deceased’s death. While a personal representative could be (and often is) a family member, the case itself is not filed on the representative’s behalf, but rather on behalf of the estate and any surviving family members as they are the ones entitled to recover damages.
Wrongful death damages are typically awarded on the bases of emotional trauma or lost support. The court takes into consideration the status of the surviving family members’ relationships with the deceased when making a decision about awarding damages.
Typically, damages are divided into two broad categories:
- Damages Related to Death: Any expenses or damages incurred from the moment the negligent act occurred until the family member’s death. This could range from a period of hours to several weeks or even months. Some examples include medical expenses, lost wages, and funeral expenses.
- Losses Suffered by Next of Kin: Damages that compensate eligible survivors for the financial loss of their family member, such as lost wages that would have been earned in the years to come.
Family members eligible for recovering damages in a wrongful death case include:
- The deceased’s spouse.
- Minor children.
- Parents of a minor child.
- Blood relatives or adopted siblings dependent upon the deceased for support.
Notably, children of unmarried parents may not claim damages if their father dies if they are not legally recognized as his children and had no obligation to support them.
When Can You File?
The statute of limitations, or the amount of time that can pass before a lawsuit can be filed, for wrongful death in the State of Florida is two years after the date of death. While that deadline can be extended in some narrow circumstances, such as in the case of medical malpractice (especially where a child is involved), the majority of cases will not be heard if filed after this deadline. It is very important to file a wrongful death claim as quickly as possible to avoid any unnecessary complications.
How Long Does It Take to Settle?
As with most legal cases, every wrongful death case is different. The length of time it takes from when the suit is filed to when it is settled or ruled on by a judge can vary based on a variety of circumstances. In some instances, a case can be settled within a few months. In others, legal action could drag on for several years. On average, however, the typical wrongful death lawsuit is resolved within one to four years.
The fastest route to a settlement occurs when an insurance company for the defendant offers a settlement to the injured party to avoid going to trial. Seeking a quick resolution is usually in the best interests of the defendant because it can avoid the risk of going to trial or opening the case up to discovery, which could expose greater liability on their part. While these rapid settlements are fairly easy to process and resolve, plaintiffs in a wrongful death case should never accept a settlement offer without consulting an experienced attorney.
Accepting a quick settlement (rather than a negotiated, structured settlement) may prevent surviving family members from recovering damages they are entitled to under Florida law. This can include lost wages, benefits, and other earnings as well as the recovery of medical and funerary expenses. Moreover, a court may find that the family is entitled to punitive damages if the defendant was engaged in reckless conduct that contributed to the deceased’s death.
While wrongful death cases can be a tragic and traumatic event for surviving family members, it is important for them to take action quickly to recover any damages they are entitled to under Florida law. At Lowman Law Firm, our experienced and caring attorneys are here to help guide you through this difficult moment for your family. If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim or believe negligence or inaction may have been a factor in your loved one’s death, contact us today to speak with one of our wrongful death lawyers.