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Florida Court Discusses Damages in a Wrongful Death Case Arising Out of a Car Accident

When people lose someone that they love in a collision, they often develop emotional distress and mental health issues. In recognition of the emotional harm often caused by fatal crashes, the Florida legislature enacted statutes allowing surviving family members to recover compensation for the pain and suffering they endured due to the loss from the party that caused the deadly accident. The damages award is determined, in part, by the surviving party’s life expectancy. Thus, if the survivor dies before a verdict is issued, no damages are owed. This was illustrated in an opinion recently issued by a Florida court in a case in which it reduced a $5 million damage award to nothing after the surviving party died before the judgment was final. If you suffered the loss of a loved one due to a car crash caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be owed damages, and you should consult a Florida car accident attorney to assess your rights.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the decedent was killed in a fatal collision. The accident occurred on a road adjacent to the defendant’s travel center. The plaintiff instituted a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant. The case proceeded to trial and the jury issued a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, granting her $5 million in compensation for pain and suffering. The defendant moved for a new trial, but before the court could rule on the motion, the plaintiff died.

It is reported that the defendant subsequently filed a motion for relief from the judgment on the grounds that Florida Statutes 768.24 provides that when a surviving heir dies before a judgment awarded under the Wrongful Death Act becomes final, the judgment should be reduced to the value of the services and support lost from the date of the decedent’s death to the date of the survivor’s passing. The court agreed, finding that because the judgment was not final when the plaintiff died, the verdict should be reduced. The plaintiff’s estate then appealed.

Judgment Awards Under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act

Upon review, the appellate court stated that what constituted a final judgment was not clear under the Wrongful Death Act. However, case law issued by Florida courts had defined the phrase on multiple occasions. At times, it was defined as a judgment entered once all opportunities for appellate relief had been exhausted. In other instances, it was deemed a judgment entered by a court without contemplation of a post-judgment motion or appeal.

Here, the appellate court stated that while the Wrongful Death Act provided that the damages sustained by a survivor after a decedent’s death shift to the negligent party, if the survivor dies, they no longer have the right to collect damages for mental anguish and there is nothing to shift. Additionally, the clear terms of the Wrongful Death Act provided that the death of a survivor prior to the judgment becoming final limit the survivor’s recovery. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Skilled Florida Attorney

Negligent drivers frequently cause fatal collisions, and when they do, anyone aggrieved by their carelessness can pursue damages. If your loved one died in a crash, you should speak to an attorney about your potential claims. The skilled Florida car accident attorneys of Cardoso Law, PLLC, can advise you of your rights and help you pursue any damages recoverable under the law.  You can reach us via our online form or by calling us at (850) 466-2073 to set up a meeting.

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