When someone is fatally injured, and it is someone else’s fault, legally, there may be a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim is only one type of legal action that may follow a fatal injury – there may be criminal charges, too. They are two separate and distinct legal proceedings.
The Florida wrongful death attorneys at Maderal Byrne & Furst PLLC explain these civil cases in Florida and how they compare to criminal cases.
Is a Wrongful Death a Civil or Criminal Case in Florida?
A wrongful death is a civil case in Florida. It is initiated and pursued by the victim’s personal representative on behalf of their surviving family. The result may be financial compensation if the defendant is found to be at legal fault for causing the death.
Wrongful death definition under Florida law
Under Florida Statutes § 768.19, a wrongful death is a death caused by a wrongful act, negligence, default, breach of contract, or breach of warranty of another that would entitle the victim to an action for damages if death had not ensued.
Think of the ways that a wrongful death may occur – homicide, a drunk driving crash, heavy equipment accident, for example. Many of these acts are crimes. These same actions fall under the Florida Statutes § 768.19 definition of wrongful death. There can be both criminal charges and a civil wrongful death claim when a death occurs because of the legal wrong of another. However, they are different proceedings.
Some criminal charges that may also make a wrongdoer liable in a wrongful death claim are:
Florida Statutes § 316.193 – DUI manslaughter/Drunk Driving Causing Death
Florida Statutes § 782.04 – Murder/Unlawful killing of a human being
Florida Statutes § 782.07 – Manslaughter/Aggravated manslaughter
Florida Statutes § 782.071 – Vehicular homicide/Reckless driving causing death
Florida Statutes 782.072 – Vessel homicide/Reckless boating causing death
Whether or not the wrongdoer faces criminal charges and whether or not they are convicted of those charges, the surviving family can pursue a wrongful death claim for compensation.
Who Brings a Wrongful Death vs. a Criminal Case in Florida?
One of the key differences between a wrongful death claim and a criminal case is who initiates the case. Under Florida Statutes § 768.20, a wrongful death case is brought by the defendant’s personal representative. The financial recovery is for the benefit of the defendant’s survivors and estate.
In a criminal case, it is the state attorney or prosecutor that initiates charges. Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.314 says the state shall file formal criminal charges using an information, indictment, or other appropriate documents. Even if the family wants to pursue charges and believes there is sufficient proof, the state attorney can decline to file charges. This can be frustrating for a family seeking justice. On the contrary, a wrongful death complaint is initiated by the survivor’s personal representative with a summons and complaint, even if the state declines criminal charges.
If you bring a civil case for wrongful death, can there still be a criminal case?
Yes. Even if there is a civil case for wrongful death, there can still be a criminal case. The state attorney or prosecutor decides whether to file criminal charges independently of whether there is a wrongful death claim.
Can wrongful death criminal charges hurt a civil case?
The outcome of criminal charges doesn’t impact a civil case. They are distinct proceedings, and there are key differences – the burden of proof is different. There are separate trials and separate juries. Facts and issues may be examined in a criminal proceeding that are relevant to subsequent civil proceedings, but by itself, a criminal charge is not determinative of a civil wrongful death charge.
The burden of proof in a wrongful death trial
Wrongful death criminal charges must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A civil claim must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a key difference that can lead to a different result in criminal and civil wrongful death cases.
Questions about Florida Wrongful Death Claims? Talk to Our Lawyers
Have you lost a loved one because of a wrongful death? Are you wondering about a civil claim and how it’s different from criminal charges? Our lawyers can help you understand the difference, whether a wrongful death civil claim is right for you, and how our legal services may help.