When a loved dies due to the actions or misactions of another person, the surviving family members may choose to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, a wrongful death lawsuit follows on the heels of a criminal trial, and often uses evidence that is similar. It’s important to note that a person does not have to be convicted of a criminal act to be found civilly liable for wrongful death.
One of the most well-known examples of this fact is O.J. Simpson. Simpson was found not guilty of murder in the slaying of his ex-wife and her associate, but he was found liable for the deaths in a civil trial. The rule of evidence differs in a civil trial as it does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but proof by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning the defendant more likely than not caused the death.
Elements of Wrongful Death
Like any other civil lawsuit, a wrongful death suit must contain certain elements to be successful. These elements include:
- The death of a person
- A death of a person caused by another’s negligence, or the intent to harm
- Monetary injury suffered by the surviving family members
- A personal representative is appointed for the decedent’s estate
When these four elements are met, a wrongful death lawsuit will typically be successful. The lawsuits may arise after a vehicle collision, criminal behavior, medical malpractice, occupational hazards or the death of a person while in supervised custody.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
The damages available in a wrongful death lawsuit are called pecuniary damages. In other words, plaintiffs are entitled to recover financial damages. These may include the loss of services, loss of support, medical expenses, funeral expenses and the lost prospect of inheritance. Damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit should be fair and just. In other words, a family will be normally be compensated for any monies paid out and for loss of income on the part of the decedent if that person contributed to the household.
In some cases, punitive damages may be awarded. This compensation is meant to act as a deterrent to the defendant and prevent them from committing similar acts in the future. In some states, punitive damages are not permitted in cases of wrongful death. In states where punitive damages are permitted, there is a specific cap set. In Florida, punitive damages can only be awarded under two specific circumstances:
- The death was caused by “intentional misconduct,” meaning the defendant knew their actions were wrong and could cause injury or death, or at least reasonably should have known
- The death was caused by “gross negligence,” or the defendant acted with indifference to safety, life and the rights of others.
In most cases in Florida, punitive damages are capped at $500,000 or three times the amount of the pecuniary damages, whichever is greater. However, there are exceptions when it comes to medical malpractice and a few other circumstances.
It’s important to note that even getting a judge to hear an argument for punitive damages is rare, much less having them awarded. Your attorney can help you decide if it’s appropriate to seek punitive damages for your case, and can come up with a plan for doing so.
When a family member is killed as the result of someone’s negligence or misdeeds, the aftermath can be devastating. Not only is the family forced to deal with the unexpected loss of their loved one, but they are left dealing with the knowledge of how the death occurred.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one in Miami and believe that death was caused by someone else, you may have the elements necessary for a successful wrongful death lawsuit. Call our office today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation case evaluation and learn more about your legal options. We will help you determine if moving forward with a wrongful death lawsuit is applicable to your situation.