A recent ruling by a Utah Appeals Court has confused legal experts across the country. In a wrongful death suit filed last year, the court allowed a woman to sue herself for an accident that killed her husband last year. The woman was driving her 2011 Range Rover when it rolled and later killed her husband. As the survivor, she is now the personal representative of her husband's estate. The court reasoned that the lawsuit separated the woman in her driver capacity from her personal representative capacity, and allowed the suit to continue.
This story presents a good opportunity to review Florida's wrongful death laws, and ask whether something like this could happen in Florida.
Wrongful Death in Florida
Florida's wrongful death laws are based in sections 768.16-7768.26 of the Florida Statutes, or the Wrongful Death Act. When the legislature passed the act its purpose was to shift the burden that results from a wrongful death from the survivors of a wrongful death to the wrongdoer who caused the death. The survivors who have the right to sue on behalf of someone who died because of a wrongdoer include the:
- spouse of the person who died;
- children of the person who died;
- parents if the person who died;
- blood relatives and adoptive siblings dependent on the person who died; and
- child of mother born out of wedlock, but not of a father unless the father recognizes a responsibility of support.
Like the name of the law states, the death must be caused by a wrongful act. In addition, a survivor can sue someone if the their loved one died as a result of negligence, default, breach of contract, or breach of a warranty. This spans nearly every possible situation, whether it is in the ocean on a boat, or in a hospital bed on land. If someone is at fault for the death of someone you love, they should be made to pay.
But what can survivors sue to recover? Florida's Wrongful Death Act allows each survivor to recover for:
- the loss of support and services provided by the person who died;
- the loss of future support and services provided;
- lost companionship and protection;
- the mental pain and suffering caused by the death;
- medical and funeral expenses; and
- loss of earnings.
Now that we have reviewed the basics of Florida's Wrongful Death Act, we must ask the following: can the same thing happen in Florida that happened in Utah — allowing a survivor to sue themselves for the wrongful death? Probably not. Florida's Wrongful Death Act states that a defendant can assert a defense against survivor that may reduce or bar her recovery. This means that if the survivor is 100% responsible for the wrongful death, their recovery would likely be reduced by 100% of whatever they would win in a lawsuit. But this part of Florida's Wrongful Death Act would not prohibit other survivors, like children, from recovering.
Let Us Help You Today
Hopefully this is never something that you or your loved ones have to worry about. But all too often families are forced to deal with the consequences of wrongful actions of others. If you are in that situation, contact The Pittman Firm for the guidance you need at this difficult time.
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