The Florida Bar

Wrongful Death

December 15, 2022

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought by the survivors or the estate of a person who died due to the negligence or intentional actions of another.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Each state has a specific set of rules governing wrongful death claims, including rules identifying who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim is usually filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim, on behalf of survivors who had a relationship with the victim. In all states, a spouse may bring a wrongful death action on behalf of his or her deceased spouse, parents of minors may also bring a wrongful death action if one of their children is killed, and minors can collect compensation for the death of their parents. Usually, the more distant the familial relationship is, the harder it will be to show that you should be allowed to collect wrongful death damages. An attorney would be able to advise you as to whether your relationship with the deceased victim would allow you to bring a claim on their behalf.

What Must Be Proven?

To hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet had the victim lived.

What Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?

Laws in each state provide the means to ease financial burden when a person or entity is legally responsible for causing the deceased person’s death. Pecuniary, or financial, injury are the main measure of damages in a wrongful death action.

  • Pecuniary damages: Pecuniary injuries including the loss of support, services, lost prospect of inheritance, and medical and funeral expenses. Most laws provide that the damages awarded for a wrongful death shall be fair and just compensation for the pecuniary injuries from the decedent’s death.
  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages can be awarded where the defendant engaged in a particularly reckless or egregious type of conduct resulting in the deceased person’s death. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and to deter similar behavior in the future. In most states, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. An attorney will be able to advise you as to whether your state allows punitive damages.
  • Survival Actions for Personal Injury: In addition, personal injury damages to the decedent may be recoverable. The decedent’s personal representative can bring such an action together with the wrongful death action, for the benefit of the decedent’s estate.

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or substitute for the advice of a lawyer.