The steps in a wrongful death lawsuit are the process for surviving families to receive compensation after the loss of a family member.
8 Steps in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida
1. Pre-lawsuit Investigation
Before you file your case, you must investigate. A pre-lawsuit investigation and evaluation determines several things, including:
- If you have a valid legal claim for compensation
- The legal cause of action
- Defendants who may be named in the claim
An investigation usually involves preserving evidence that is available to you. Then, you evaluate the grounds for a legal claim and the defendants that may have a legal fault.
Florida Statutes § 768.18 says that when death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence or default of another, and the victim would have been entitled to bring a claim if death had not ensued, the liable person is still liable. Preparing to file a case means investigating and evaluating the claim under Florida law.
2. Identifying survivors
Florida law says who may receive compensation for wrongful death. Qualifying parties may include:
- Others dependent on the victim
Someone may qualify as dependent if they are wholly or partially dependent on the victim. A person who is adopted qualifies. Survivors must be named in the filing documents along with their relationship to the victim.
3. Filing the lawsuit
The decedent’s personal representative starts the wrongful death claim. The beneficiaries receive the recovery, which may include the estate. (Florida Statutes § 768.20).
A lawsuit begins with a complaint and other filing documents. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 1.110 creates requirements for a pleading. The document must contain a short statement of court jurisdiction, the facts creating the claim for relief and a demand for judgment. The personal representative must file the necessary documents and pay the filing fee, following court procedures.
They must serve all defendants with legal documents in compliance with court rules.
Under Florida Statutes § 95.11(4)(d), you have two years from the date of the victim’s death to start the claim.
4. Pre-trial procedures
Once the claim begins, there are pre-trial procedures. The parties may engage in discovery under Florida Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 1.280. Discovery allows you to receive evidence that may be in the other party’s possession. It gives you the authority to depose witnesses, demand production of records and demand that the other party answer interrogatories.
Either party may file a preliminary motion. Preliminary motions may address the discovery process, the presentation of evidence at trial and other issues. The court may convene a case management conference or pretrial conference.
In the pre-trial stages, you build your claim for damages. Damages that may be claimed depend on the relationship of the beneficiary with the decedent. The estate may claim lost financial benefits including net estate accumulations. You must gather evidence to prove the extent of your damages and fair financial compensation.
Pre-trial procedures help you build your case for compensation. They also help the parties narrow the issues in dispute to assist in reaching a non-trial resolution.
5. Case resolution, settlement or trial
A wrongful death case may be resolved by a settlement or by going to trial. A settlement may be reached by negotiations between the parties. Negotiations may include formal mediation. If the parties can resolve a case by settlement, they reduce the agreement to writing and submit it to the court.
If the parties are unable to settle, the case proceeds to trial. At trial, the parties will select a jury, present evidence, question witnesses and make arguments. The jury will weigh the evidence and determine a verdict.
A settlement must be approved by the court if a survivor is a minor or if the amount or apportionment is objected to by any survivor. Florida Statutes § 768.25.
At trial, a verdict must state the amount awarded to each survivor and the estate separately. Florida Statutes 768.22.
6. Post-litigation court actions, if any
A party may file a post-litigation court motion or file an appeal.
7. Guardianship procedures, if necessary
If a beneficiary is a minor child or incompetent, Florida Statutes § 768.23 may apply to require proceedings under Florida guardianship law for management of the funds on behalf of the beneficiary.
8. Deducting litigation expenses
Before distribution to survivors, the personal representative will deduct litigation expenses and attorney fees. Costs are deducted in proportion to the recovery of each beneficiary. However, if expenses are incurred for a particular survivor, the costs are deducted for that survivor.
This is a general overview of the steps in a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida. The process in a particular case may vary based on factors that are specific to that case. Local court procedures and actions of the defense may impact how the litigation process unfolds. At a personalized consultation, our wrongful death attorneys can give you case-specific guidance about what to expect for steps in your case.
Do Wrongful Death Cases Have to Finish Before the Statute of Limitations Runs Out?
No. A wrongful death case must be started before the statute of limitations runs out, but it doesn’t have to be finished. To comply with the time deadline, their case must be filed before the last day of the limitations period.
Note: You should always talk to a lawyer promptly if you are considering bringing a claim for wrongful death. There are important things to do to build your case. We invite you to contact us to talk about your case and the steps to pursue compensation.
Get legal help with a wrongful death lawsuit
The steps in a wrongful death lawsuit are critical to receiving the compensation you deserve. How you pursue your case impacts the outcome. You can have help from an experienced and accomplished team of wrongful death attorneys. Contact Maderal Byrne & Furst for a consultation about your case.