If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you can file a wrongful death claim to recover damages. This is a complicated process, especially when valuing the claim. You’ll encounter various obstacles, from knowing which damages to pursue to navigating damage caps. While charting the course through wrongful death case hurdles is challenging, educating yourself is an important first step. Learn more about valuing your wrongful death claim so you can move forward with a settlement or lawsuit.
Types of Damages Available
Florida law recognizes three types of damages in wrongful death claims: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Most claimants are only eligible for the first two, although punitive damages are awarded in certain circumstances.
At first, economic damages in wrongful death cases sound very straightforward since they’re associated with actual financial losses. For instance, it’s easy to determine how much you spent on medical bills and funeral costs after losing a loved one.
However, wrongful death claims can also include future economic losses, such as lost wages and benefits. When calculating future losses, it’s important to consider work and life expectancy, earning growth rates, projected inflation, and other factors. Failure to do so will prevent you from getting the full value of your claim.
Additionally, you can pursue compensation for lost services previously provided by the deceased. Such services include mowing the lawn, cooking meals, and other household chores.
Florida Statute 768.21 lists non-economic damages that eligible family members can collect. Non-economic damages include the loss of support, protection, and companionship, along with mental pain and anguish resulting from the death. Except for medical malpractice claims, Florida doesn’t cap non-economic damages. Thus, you need to consider the circumstances of the death and other factors to ensure you pursue a fair amount.
While rare, the court can award punitive damages if the evidence shows the defendant acted intentionally or with gross negligence. Even though they’re designed to punish the defendant and deter others from committing similar crimes, Florida Statute 768.73 sets caps for punitive damages.
In most cases, the cap is $500,000 or three times the compensatory damages, whichever is higher. However, the cap increases to $2 million or four times the compensatory damages when the defendant knew the actions could cause harm but moved forward for financial gain. Finally, the court isn’t restricted by a damage cap when the evidence shows that the defendant intended to harm the deceased.
Factors That Can Reduce Damages
Certain factors can impact the amount of money you receive during a settlement or judgment. While not an inclusive list, these are some of the most common issues claimants experience.
Florida adopted a modified comparative negligence system on March 24, 2023, changing who is eligible to collect damages. Under the new system, estates and relatives are only eligible for damages if the deceased was 50 percent or less at fault.
Also, the court will reduce the damages awarded if the deceased shares some responsibility. For instance, assume that the court awards you $500,000 but says your loved one is 50 percent at fault. Then, your award will be reduced to $250,000.
It’s important to note that the new comparative negligence system doesn’t apply to medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice still follows the pure comparative negligence system, so you can pursue damages as long as the provider shares at least some of the fault.
Florida Statute 768.28 caps damages for claims brought against the government. You’re limited to recovering up to $200,000 unless your claim is against multiple government agencies. In that case, you can be awarded up to $300,000. If you receive a judgment greater than the damage cap, you won’t be able to collect the entire amount. However, you can pursue other legal avenues if your losses exceed the damage limits.
Damages can go to the deceased’s estate and eligible family members. Creditors can’t make claims on money awarded to family members, but they can go after money that’s granted to the estate. They must first go through probate court before making a claim against the estate.
Don’t Settle Before Knowing the Value of the Claim
If you have a viable wrongful death claim, the defendant’s insurance company will likely want to settle for less than it’s worth. Thus, it’s critical that you determine the claim’s value before agreeing to a settlement. Once you know the value, you can negotiate from a place of strength and receive the compensation you’re owed.