To file a wrongful death lawsuit, the person who initiates legal action must be a personal representative of the family as appointed in the will. If the will did not appoint a personal representative, the court can appoint one to represent the interests of eligible family members, e.g. spouses, children, and parents.
A wrongful death attorney can help appoint a personal representative and pursue compensation for the beneficiaries.
What Florida Law Says About Eligible Parties for Filing a Wrongful Death Case
Before you take any legal action, you should know that Florida requires the loved one who passed away to have a personal representative to their estate who can file a wrongful death claim. If the loved one had a will or an estate plan, the documents will list the personal representative.
However, in the event there is no personal representative—if there is no will or estate plan—the court will appoint someone with the title.
Who Can Be a Beneficiary in a Wrongful Death Case?
The personal representative is the person who files the claim, but the compensation may go to the surviving family members of the decedent. All eligible surviving members who can pursue compensation must be on a list of parties with an interest in the case – these surviving family members are known as beneficiaries. Florida law limits eligible parties to:
- The spouse of the deceased person
- The children of the deceased person
- The parents of the deceased person
There are certain exceptions to the three parties above. For instance, if a sibling (blood or adopted) relied on the decedent for financial support prior to the death, he or she may have an interest in the case. Other blood relatives reliant on the loved one before they passed away may qualify for compensation, too.
In the Event of the Loss of a Parent
In cases involving parents, certain factors come into play:
- When a mother dies: The child may recover damages if he or she was born to unmarried parents.
- When a father dies: The child may recover only if the father had parental rights to contribute to and support the child.
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Florida’s Wrongful Death Laws Bar Certain Parties From Filing a Case
Florida’s wrongful death statute uses the term “survivor” to describe those that can receive compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Florida law, a “survivor” is defined as 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.” Therefore, if you are not on the list, you typically cannot pursue compensation.
This bars the following parties from accessing compensation in most cases:
- Close friends
What Is a Personal Representative?
In Florida, when someone passes away, their financial obligations are overseen by a personal representative. A personal representative can be an individual, family member, business, or trust. The duties of a personal representative include the following:
- Pursuing wrongful death claims
- Paying off the debts of the person who passed away
- Notifying and locating creditors
- Completing any tax-related duties
Together, these financial obligations and assets are known as the “estate.” Essentially, the job of the personal representative is to tie up the loose financial ends for the person who passed and manage their “estate.” This task, as noted before, can include filing a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of qualifying family members.
How Are Personal Representatives Appointed?
Ideally, a personal representative will be appointed by the person’s will. If no such will exists, or the will doesn’t identify a personal representative, the court will work with the surviving heirs to appoint a personal representative. In Florida, the spouse has the first claim to the personal representative position. If no spouse exists, the heirs can decide on a personal representative. If they cannot decide, the court will take over the appointment process.
Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The types of damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit depend on the party pursuing compensation. These are the unique damages available to specific parties:
If the loved one needed medical assistance after the incident that caused their passing, you can pursue compensation for these expenses. The loved one’s lost income and the cost of their funeral and burial can also be pursued.
Non-economic damages apply to the pain, suffering, and loss that surviving family members experience after their loved one’s passing. These damages are available to every party pursuing compensation.
The amount of compensation in a wrongful death case is determined by reviewing several factors, including:
- The age of the deceased person
- The income of the deceased person
- The age of the survivors involved in the case
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Wrongful Death Lawsuits Are Time-Sensitive
Wrongful death lawsuits are subject to Florida’s statute of limitations. Florida Statute § 95.11(4)(d) provides survivors with a two-year deadline for wrongful death lawsuits. Missing this deadline can result in a case being thrown out. For this reason, it’s best to get started as soon as you can.
A wrongful death attorney can help family members manage deadlines, exceptions, and legal requirements. Certain exceptions may alter the standard timeline for a wrongful death case, and a lawyer can keep the family in the know about these possible changes.
Work With a Wrongful Death Attorney Today
At Dismuke Law, our Lakeland wrongful death attorneys are here to help you understand your rights. Let us pursue the justice and compensation your family needs to move forward.