If you lost a loved one in an accident due to someone else's negligence, the path forward toward healing is daunting. While your loved one can never return to you, obtaining the compensation you deserve can help your family's overall recovery.
If this is the difficult situation you face, reach out to an experienced St. Petersburg wrongful death lawyer for the professional legal counsel you need. Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers are ready to help, and we regularly obtain successful results for our clients with serious injuries. Seek a free consultation with our legal team today.
Risks in the Sunshine City
St. Petersburg is called the Sunshine City for a good reason—there are very few days throughout the year in this city that do not provide warm sunshine. St. Pete has beaches, golf courses, waterways, and fishing spots to make the most of the fine weather and scenery. With its dynamic art scene and other attractions, St. Petersburg has plenty to offer, attracting new residents and tourists year-round.
This also means there are risks of serious or fatal injuries everywhere.
Some accidents might include:
- Pedestrian collisions while walking to St. Pete Beach
- Drowning accidents at Piterland Aquapark
- Truck crashes on I-275
- Boating or water sports accidents
- Amusement park accidents
Any of these accidents can be fatal, leaving families with devastating losses. In addition, recent data show that you have a one in 145 chance of being the victim of violent crime in St. Petersburg, and people reported 1,777 violent crimes in a recent year. When violence turns deadly, it can also lead to a wrongful death claim, just like an accidental death.
Wrongful Death Claims
In Florida, wrongful death refers to a death someone else's wrongful act or negligence caused.
Wrongful death claims are often the result of fatal accidents such as:
- Traffic accidents of every kind, including car, truck, motorcycle, rideshare, bike, pedestrian, and bus accidents (St. Petersburg has more than its fair share of dangerous roadways)
- Boating accidents
- Slip and fall accidents (especially from heights)
Wrongful death claims tend to be exceptionally challenging, and working closely with a dedicated wrongful death lawyer is the surest way to help protect your legal rights—in pursuit of your rightful compensation.
Filing the Wrongful Death Claim
In many states, the surviving relatives of the person who lost their life (the decedent) file the wrongful death claim against the at-fault party, but it works a bit differently in Florida.
In Florida, a representative of the decedent’s estate (often called the executor of the estate) files the claim on behalf of the decedent’s surviving relatives. As such, this personal representative must include a list of all the decedent’s potential beneficiaries with the wrongful death claim.
The surviving relatives on this list include:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving children (minor children—or those who are under the age of 25 for this purpose—are entitled to more considerable damages than adult children are)
- The decedent’s surviving parents
Other surviving relatives who depended on the decedent for significant financial support may qualify as beneficiaries, but only after the decedent’s primary beneficiaries have had the opportunity to file.
Civil versus Criminal Cases
It’s important to note that sometimes, wrongful death cases in civil court coincide with criminal cases. For example, if your loved one lost their life in an accident because of a drunk driver, the driver can face criminal charges, but this does not mean you can't also bring a wrongful death claim against them.
The Time Restriction
In Florida, the statute of limitations—or time restriction—for filing a wrongful death claim is generally two years from your loved one's death (not from the date of the accident that ultimately proves fatal). Because these claims are complicated and time-consuming, address the matter sooner rather than later by reaching out to a trusted wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.
If you miss the filing deadline for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit, you will lose your legal options. One exception is if your loved one lost their life to murder or manslaughter—in which case there is no statute of limitations in Florida.
Losses You Can Recover Compensation For
In a wrongful death claim in the State of Florida, you can seek compensation for losses in various categories.
Losses Incurred by Your Loved One
If your loved one lived beyond the accident that ultimately proved fatal, the law allows you to recover financially for the losses they experienced from the time of the accident to the time of their death.
The losses in this category include:
- The decedent’s medical bills (post-accident and before death)
- The decedent’s lost income (post-accident and before death)
- The decedent’s physical and mental pain and suffering (post-accident and before death)
Your Family’s Economic Losses
The economic losses you can address in your wrongful death claim include those with a specific cost associated.
This generally means the income to your household that you’ve lost as a result of your family member’s untimely death, which can come in all the following forms:
- Lost wages
- Lost employee benefits
- Lost bonuses and commissions
The accumulated loss over the decedent’s lifetime can be considerable.
Additionally, you can seek compensation for those contributions that your lost loved one can no longer make, such as:
- Doing work around the house, including yard work
- Providing childcare
- Providing transportation
- Making home or car repairs
Finally, damages can reimburse the estate (or a family member) for expenses related to the fatality, including the cost of the funeral and burial and any medical expenses the family paid out of pocket.
Your Family’s Non-economic Losses
Your family’s non-economic losses refer to the physical and emotional pain and suffering you must endure due to your loss, which does not have a definitive price. The law recognizes that, although these losses are not monetary, they are real and should receive fair coverage.
Non-economic damages might include:
- The loss of companionship of the decedent
- The loss of guidance from the decedent
- The emotional trauma the surviving beneficiaries experienced
- The loss of consortium (or love, companionship, and emotional support)—for surviving spouses and children
In extreme cases, when the at-fault party's actions are exceptionally reckless or intentionally wrongful, you may receive punitive damages. Juries award such damages, which aim to punish the at-fault party (rather than compensate the survivors).
The Insurance Company’s Position
Your attorney will file your wrongful death claim with the insurance company that provides the at-fault party with liability coverage. For example, if the fatal accident is a car accident, you will file your claim with the negligent driver’s car insurance provider.
While the insurance company should cover such losses, it remains a for-profit business that will do what it can to bolster its profits. Some of the practices it uses aim to specifically discourage you or persuade you to accept less than a fair settlement amount.
If the Insurance Company Offers You an Early Settlement
If the insurance company responds to your claim with an early settlement offer, it’s likely an attempt to finalize your claim before you recognize the full extent of your losses. By striking early, the insurance company can often settle for less.
If the Insurance Company Denies Your Claim from the Start
Sometimes, insurance companies will deny wrongful death claims—hoping that claimants will walk away. This does not necessarily reflect the strength of your claim. If your legal team believes in your wrongful death claim, you shouldn't let this tactic dissuade you from proceeding. If the insurance company refuses to negotiate in good faith, you can leave the matter up to a jury.
If the Insurance Company Delays the Claim Process
Sometimes, insurance companies make the wrongful death claims process so long and drawn out that claimants give up out of pure frustration. While there are laws in place designed to thwart such practices, holding the insurance company responsible can be exceptionally difficult without professional legal counsel on your side.
St. Petersburg Wrongful Death FAQs
If you have a wrongful death claim, you are almost certainly at a loss for how best to proceed. The grief you experience can cloud your ability to make well-considered decisions. Still, a compassionate wrongful death lawyer can help—and the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions may answer some of your own.
What should I do if I can’t afford a wrongful death lawyer?
Many survivors of loved ones who pass away due to the negligence of others have concerns about the cost of hiring a skilled wrongful death lawyer, but you needn’t be. Reputable wrongful death lawyers generally work on contingency, which means their pay is contingent upon (or based upon) their ability to obtain a settlement or court award. If so, your wrongful death lawyer will receive a prearranged percentage of your settlement amount (or court award if the matter goes to trial).
In other words, if your claim is unsuccessful, you won’t owe your lawyer anything. You can afford an experienced wrongful death lawyer and are well-advised to have one in your corner.
How long do I have to file my claim?
The statute of limitations (or time restriction) for wrongful death claims in Florida is two years from when your loved one succumbed to their injuries. While two years may seem like more than enough time to take care of the matter, the grief you experience, the challenges you face, and the complex nature of these claims can take up far more time than you realize. This makes consulting a lawyer early in the process the recommended approach.
How much is my claim worth?
Your claim involves unique circumstances, which means there is no way to estimate its value without digging into the specifics. Ultimately, your claim will be worth the eligible losses you can demonstrate to the court (or negotiate with the at-fault party).
Do I need a wrongful death lawyer?
Claimants can greatly benefit from hiring a lawyer to bring a wrongful death claim. You have a relatively brief window of time to bring your claim—and wrongful death claims are notoriously complicated.
You and your family have experienced a serious loss that does not put you in a great position to negotiate for the compensation you deserve while also navigating the complex legal system.
The right wrongful death lawyer will take on all the following critical tasks to protect your legal rights:
- Assessing your complete physical, financial, and emotional losses and ensuring you can support your claimed losses in your wrongful death claim
- Compiling physical evidence from the scene of the accident
- Gathering eyewitness testimony
- Communicating and skillfully negotiating with the involved insurance company on behalf of your best interests
- Ensuring that you understand the legal process and helping you navigate within that process
- Preparing for trial to help ensure that you’re ready to file a lawsuit if the involved insurance company refuses to engage in fair negotiations
How do I prove wrongful death?
Most wrongful death claims stem from negligence, like most personal injury claims.
As such, there are certain basic elements that you must meet for a successful wrongful death claim, including:
- The at-fault party owed the decedent a duty of care—or had a responsibility for their safety.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care owed.
- This breach was the direct cause of the fatal accident.
- The decedent, their survivors, or both suffered losses.
Consult an Experienced St. Petersburg Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Losing a loved one to someone else’s negligence—or worse—is a tragic turn of events that can leave you at a considerable loss. The compassionate wrongful death lawyers at Nicoletti Accident Injury Lawyers in St. Petersburg understand the gravity of your situation and have an impressive track record of helping clients like you—with proven results. For more information, please contact our firm today at (727) 797-2020.