Everything You Need to Know About Wrongful Death in West Palm Beach

It’s difficult when someone we love passes away. No matter how prepared we are for the end of someone’s life, it’s still something that throws us into the grieving process. When a loved one is killed suddenly, there is no preparing. The grieving process is often the same, but emotions may be heightened. We believe that the accident wasn’t fair, and we question why it happened to that person.

When this type of event happens in West Palm Beach, the remaining family members have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Here is everything you need to know about wrongful death in West Palm Beach.

What Is Wrongful Death?

When a person is killed in an accident or at the hands of another, their death may be “wrongful.” These deaths are typically the result of someone’s error, negligence or reckless behavior. In all cases, the death could have been prevented if the at fault party had simply made better decisions.

While a wrongful death can occur as the result of any type of accident, they most often occur as the result of a vehicle collision. The at fault party does not have to be criminally charged in order for the surviving family members to file suit but in many cases, these types of accidents do result in someone being charged with a crime.

Here’s an example:

John is driving down the street and stops at an intersection. His light turns green and he proceeds. A car that should have stopped at the red light did not and collides with John’s vehicle. John is fatally injured in the accident and leaves behind a spouse and three young children. The spouse has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

Elements of a Wrongful Death Case in West Palm Beach infographic

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When a person files a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, there must be certain elements in place in order for the case to be successful. If even one of these elements is missing, the plaintiff will not be awarded damages. The elements of a wrongful death case are:

  1. The at-fault party had a duty of care to the deceased person;
  2. The at-fault party breached that duty of care;
  3. The breach of duty led to an accident or incident; and,
  4. That incident directly led to injuries that caused the death of the person.

In plain language, someone must have been tasked with a certain responsibility, behaved in a negligent manner and caused a fatal accident.

For example:

Mariah is driving down the highway when a driver approaching in the opposite direction crosses the center line and hits her vehicle. Mariah is killed instantly. Police discover that the driver who crossed the centerline was intoxicated. Each element of a wrongful death case has been met.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in West Palm Beach?

There are laws that dictate who may file a wrongful death claim in court. In Florida, a personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file a claim. Each surviving family member must be listed in that claim. The deceased person’s spouse, children and parents can recover damages as a result of a successful case. Additionally, any blood relative that the decedent was supporting partly or wholly may recover damages.

When parents are not married, a child can recover damages if the mother dies. They can also recover damages if the father dies, but the father must have claimed the child and been legally obligated to support the child.

Statute of Limitations

There is a statute of limitations in any type of civil lawsuit. The statute of limitations is the time that a person has to file a case. According to Florida Statutes section 95.11(4)(d), a surviving family member or personal representative of a decedent’s estate has two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If a person fails to file suit within this time frame and two years passes, they have lost their right to seek compensation unless very specific circumstances have postponed the time limit.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Any wrongful death case is considered a civil claim, which only means that it is brought by a person and not the government. The case will not address the possible crimes that the at fault party committed, only the monetary damages that were caused to the remaining family members or estate.

A judge and jury must abide by certain rules when awarding damages. Several factors will be considered. These include:

  • The value of the support that the decedent had provided to the surviving family members,
  • The loss of protection, companionship and guidance resulting from the person’s death,
  • Emotional suffering when the decedent is a child, and
  • The expenses related to the funeral and burial of the deceased person.

Other damages that may be awarded to the estate include:

  • Lost earnings and benefits, including the earnings the person could have been expected to contribute to the family if they were not killed
  • Prospective net accumulations of the estate
  • Any medical or funeral expenses paid by the estate rather than a surviving family member

For example:

Scott was a teacher. At the time of the accident that took his life, Scott was 25 years old and left behind a wife and newborn child. Scott had a salary of $35,000 at the time of his death and would not have retired until he was 55 years old. The estate could potentially be awarded $1,050,000 as a result of Scott’s lost wages.

How a West Palm Beach Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help

A wrongful death claim is not always cut and dry. An experienced attorney can assist a family in filing a lawsuit and seeing it through to a successful conclusion. If a loved one has been killed in West Palm Beach in an accident that was caused by negligence, error or reckless behavior, reach out to our office. We will review your case at no cost to you and advise you of your legal rights.  

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