The untimely death of a loved one is always a nightmare scenario for everyone. But, when the death is due to the preventable negligence or misconduct of another person, business entity or other entity, it is even more devastating. When your family member is gone nothing can bring them back, but there is a legal process through which the person, persons, company or entity at fault can be held liable and therefore responsible for payment of monetary damages.
Your loved one may be gone, but the legal process and a settlement can help provide closure for your family and protect the interests of those left behind; for example, children who need to be supported to adulthood. A settlement can make sure that the remaining family is financially secure and also make sure that those at fault are held accountable. It is important to many families that a wrongful death suit can mean the case is publicized and lessons are learned, to ensure the safety of others and help prevent future deaths due to the same negligence or misconduct.
We can help you
Arcadier & Associates, P.A., is a premier wrongful death law firm for Palm Bay, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Viera, all of Brevard County and Central Florida. We will handle any type of wrongful death case. If your family has suffered a wrongful death and are looking for serious representation, we will go to court and fight for you. Call us today and we will be glad to give you a free consultation and discuss all your options with you. We will represent you and fight for you against any negligent party, no matter who they are, or how big they are.
What is a Wrongful Death Suit?
A wrongful death suit is a civil action that is brought by the immediate family of the decedent, as a result of either the negligence or misconduct of another person, persons, company or other entity. The wrongful death process was designed to offer a civil legal remedy that will provide financial support to the surviving spouse, children and any other family. This process ensures that the person or persons at fault take responsibility for their actions and compensate the family, so that they are not financially disadvantaged by the wrongful death.
What Requirements Are Needed For Filing a Wrongful Death Suit?
Specific laws regarding wrongful death suits vary from state to state but typically, for a successful wrongful death suit, there are four elements that must be fulfilled:
- There was the death of a human being
- The defendant must have been negligent or otherwise strictly liable for the death
- The decedent left behind a surviving spouse, children or other beneficiaries or dependents that are suffering monetary damages due to the death
- There has been a personal representative appointed for the decedent’s estate
These are the basic requirements for a wrongful death suit, although as we pointed out, the various states have different statues that govern the requirements to file. If all these conditions are fulfilled, you have the basis for a wrongful death suit. However, as we will see later, it is possible that there may also be a criminal case.
Under What Circumstances Can I File a Wrongful Death Suit?
The actions of the other person, persons or entity that caused the wrongful death may have been due to negligence or misconduct, or intentional, making it criminal in nature. Common cases of negligence include the drunk driver who kills another motorist in an accident that is their fault, the homeowner who ignores a law regarding enclosure of swimming pools, resulting in the drowning of a child or medical malpracting resulting in death. In these cases, the person did not set out to cause the death, but the death was due to their misconduct and was ultimately preventable had they taken proper care in their conduct. A death that resulted from criminal behavior, such as a physical attack, is due to intentional misconduct so is therefore also a probable criminal action.
A few of the most common forms of wrongful death claims are:
- Automobile accident resulting in death
- Medical malpractice resulting in death
- Occupation-related death
- Accidental death at a home or business, or during a supervised activity
- Criminal behavior resulting in death
What if a Company not an Individual is Responsible for a Death?
While a company cannot be charged with murder, a wrongful death suit can still be brought, and is the only avenue available if it is not possible to charge a specific individual at the company. In these cases, it is more appropriate to charge the company as a whole, rather than an individual. An example of this is in the case of tobacco companies, which have successfully been sued for the wrongful death of smokers.
Other examples would be wrongful death at a business, such as an amuesment park, supervised event, or other type of event or function operated by a company or other entity.
How is a Wrongful Death Suit Different from Criminal Charges?
A wrongful death suit is a civil action and therefore differs from a criminal action. A wrongful death suit can be brought when the death is due to either the negligent or intentional misconduct of another. Many of these actions can also result in a murder or manslaughter charge.
Unlike a criminal court, in which evidence is needed “beyond reasonable doubt” in order for the defendant to be found responsible, in a wrongful death suit, the plaintiffs only need to show that there is a “preponderance of evidence” the defendant was at fault. Therefore, it is often easier to gain resolution in a wrongful death suit than in a criminal suit. A wrongful death suit may be the only option when criminal proceedings have failed and a defendant is found not guilty, or when murder or manslaughter charges have been dropped for any reason.
It may still be possible for a family to gain some kind of resolution and compensation for their loved one’s death in these cases, even if a defendant has been cleared of criminal charges. A civil wrongful death action can still be brought against them by the victim’s family, and due to the lower burden of proof, these actions may be successful. A good example of this is the famous O.J. Simpson case, where he was found not guilty in the criminal phase, but later found liable in the wrongful death action.
Immunity from Wrongful Death Suit
Although most wrongful death suits can proceed, there are some instances where the defendant is immune from this type of civil suit.
Traditionally, family members have been immune from a wrongful death suit filed by another family member. This was done in order to preserve the integrity of the family, and also to prevent fraud in which members of a family conspired together for financial gain. However, it is not applied strictly in most states, most often in order to allow children to legitimately collect insurance money.
State and local governments have what is called “Sovereign Immunity,” which protects them from civil suits filed by members of the public against them. However, they may have waived the right to this immunity, therefore exposing themselves to civil suits. For example, if your child dies at a city swimming pool due to negligence of the city, you may be able to sue the city. If you are considering filing a suit against a government entity it is important to remember that they have strict filing requirements and there are time limits on when you may file.
Arcadier & Associates, P.A., is a Wrongful Death firm serving Palm Bay, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Viera and Brevard Counties and all of Central Florida. We will be glad to help and advise you every step of the way, from initial consultation, to going to trial if that is where your case ends up. If you’ve suffered a wrongful death in your family due to the negligence of another party or parties, call us today to set up your free consultation so we can discuss your case and your options.