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What are My Rights in a Wrongful Death Claim?

By Jaeson W. Homola

The death of a loved one is never easy.  But, when that loved one has been killed as the result of another’s negligence, your grief can become complicated by legal issues.  Unfortunately, in addition to making funeral arrangements, settling financial obligations and coordinating schedules for loved ones, family members are often faced with the burden of dealing with insurance adjusters shortly after the death.  For grieving individuals, dealing with insurance companies is the last thing on their minds. To avoid the nuisance, they often trust anything the insurance adjuster says.

In that fragile state of mind it is never a good idea for a family member to deal with the insurance company of a negligent individual.  It is strongly recommended to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney or at the very least give yourself an appropriate mourning period.  The one thing you should never do is sign any paperwork from an insurance company without having an attorney look it over first.  I am always willing to provide free consultation in this type of situation to ensure your rights are protected.

There are several legal steps that must be taken in a wrongful death claim that are not necessary in a typical negligence claim.  When an individual dies, all of his belongings and interests become part of what is known as that individual’s estate.  The contents of the estate are then distributed according to the deceased individual’s validly executed will.  In the case where there is no will, any assets will be distributed according to Florida Statues.  When an individual is killed as the result of another’s negligence, the estate has the right to pursue damages against the at fault party.  In order to recover these damages, it is necessary to file documentation to set up a formal estate, and appoint a personal representative to oversee and make decisions on behalf of the estate.

In addition to the damages that are recoverable by the estate, spouses and children of the deceased are also entitled to damages as survivors. These damages are separate from the damages that go into the estate and cannot be claimed by creditors of the estate.  For example, if your father died with unpaid bills, the creditors would only be able to claim damages that went to the estate, not damages that were awarded to you as a survivor.  There are some exceptions as to who qualifies as a survivor under Florida law and what damages can be recovered by the different survivors.  An attorney at Barrett, Fasig & Brooks can provide you guidance with regard to whether you qualify as a survivor under Florida law.

The statute of limitations is also different in a wrongful death claim as compared to a typical negligence claim.  The statute of limitations is 2 years in a wrongful death claim as opposed to the 4 year limitation in a standard negligence claim.  In Florida, this means that you must file the wrongful death lawsuit within 2 years of the date of the death.  Unfortunately, failure to file the lawsuit during that time period will result in a loss of your right to bring a claim against the party responsible for causing the death.

The attorneys at Barrett, Fasig & Brooks have extensive experience handling wrongful death claims and have attorneys available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, to discuss any questions you may have about bringing a wrongful death claim.

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