Knowing that another person’s negligence caused your loved one’s death is devastating and traumatic. Under Florida law, certain surviving family members have a right to bring a lawsuit against the person or company whose negligence caused their loved one’s death. These types of lawsuits are called wrongful death lawsuits. Florida law governs who can recover financial damages in wrongful death lawsuits. It also governs what kinds of damages they can recover and at what age they can recover them. Understanding how wrongful death lawsuit settlements are paid out can be confusing. We will discuss the basics below.
Types of Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Florida’s wrongful death statute has specific provisions for adults and minor children and parents and spouses of the deceased individual. Survivors are also entitled to legal fees they incur by bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. Survivors can also be entitled to other medical, funeral, and mortuary expenses related to their loved one’s death. The following types of damages specific to survivors are typically covered in wrongful death lawsuits:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of support
- Loss of protection
- Loss of parental companionship
- Pain and suffering
Additionally, there are other damages specific to the decedent’s estate, including a loss of earnings. The plaintiff can also see compensation for loss of net financial accumulation that the deceased individual could have reasonably accrued over his or her lifetime.
The Distribution of Wrongful Death Settlements in Florida
When it comes to the distribution of the damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, certain familial relationships and financial considerations are weighted more heavily than others. The court overseeing the wrongful death lawsuit will consider the following factors:
- Whether the beneficiaries are adults who are capable of agreeing with other parties’ attorneys as to a fair division of compensation
- Whether there are minor children among the decedent survivors who need to have their financial future and well-being assured. If so, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to administer compensation from the wrongful-death settlement until the child comes of age.
- Whether there are adults who were dependent on the deceased individual among the survivors. For example, suppose a disabled adult child or non-compos mentis parent with Alzheimer’s among the surviving family members. In this case, the court may appoint a third party to oversee their share of the compensation. The third party would act on the individual’s best interests and well-being.
The Surviving Spouse
In a wrongful death lawsuit, survivors are entitled to compensation. Survivors include the surviving spouse, any minor children of the deceased under 25, and parents of the deceased in some cases. The surviving spouse has a right to recover the value of lost financial support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury until the decedent’s death was interest. The surviving spouse can also receive compensation for the decedent’s loss of companionship and protection and mental pain and suffering from the date of the injury that caused the decedent’s death.
Under Florida’s wrongful death act, the age of majority is 25. Children under 25 have a right to recover whatever damages the surviving spouse can recover. They can also recover compensation for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for the mental pain and suffering they have endured. Adult children over 25 are also entitled to the same type of recovery as long as there is no surviving spouse. If the action is based on medical malpractice, adult children cannot recover any compensation.
Parents of a deceased minor child under 25 have a right to recover compensation for the mental pain and suffering they have endured from the date of injury.
Allocation of Attorneys’ Fees
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the attorneys’ fees and costs will be paid by the personal representative. Typically the attorneys’ fees and cost will be deducted from the settlement awards that survivors receive and the estate in proportion to the amount awarded them. In some cases, the court will determine that the defendant must pay all attorneys’ fees and costs. As a result, the surviving family members will not have to see their settlement amounts reduced by the cost of attorneys’ fees.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits and Taxes
Unfortunately, surviving family members who obtained a wrongful-death settlement will need to consider the tax implications. You may have heard that settlement distributions in a civil, wrongful death lawsuit are not taxable. This is not entirely true. In general, both punitive and compensatory damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuits are not taxed by the IRS, as long as the individual receiving the distribution after 1996.
However, if the deceased individual’s estate brings the wrongful death lawsuit, the estate will own the settlement. Suppose a person’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit and obtained lost wages and net accumulations. Once the settlement is distributed to the estate, the money automatically becomes part of the estate in probate. The money could be subject to typical estate taxes and income tax that the deceased individual would have paid in life. It is possible that creditors will also have a claim on the money in the estate during probate and could file to claim a share of the distributions.
Discuss Your Case With a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Losing a loved one is difficult, and if the death was preventable, the grieving process could be excruciating. If your loved one has died due to another person’s negligence, you may be considering filing a wrongful-death lawsuit. Obtaining compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit can help you pay your loved one’s final expenses and help you ensure your financial future. Please contact Gould Cooksey Fennell today to schedule your free initial consultation with one of our experienced wrongful-death lawyers.