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01/10/2014
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Compensable Losses in Wrongful Death Actions

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Personal Injury

The Gainesville Law Office of Alba & Yochim P.A. discuss compensable losses in wrongful death actions.The primary distinction between wrongful death actions and other types of personal injury actions, is that claims are asserted by family members or dependents (“survivors”) of the deceased victim (“decedent”), including beneficiaries of the decedent’s estate, by and through the personal representative, as opposed to claims asserted by the actual accident victim.

As a result of this variation in claimants, the types of damages sought in actions involving a victim’s fatality, can vary greatly, in comparison to personal injury claims involving a surviving victim. For more information, see also ‘Classifications of Individuals in Wrongful Death Actions.’

Wrongful death actions often involve claims associated with the loss of support or services that a decedent would have provided to a claimant, had the fatality not occurred. While claims for the loss of financial support are more common, recovery for the replacement value of the decedent’s services are also compensable loss.

Claims for the loss of support and services can be delineated into pre-fatality losses and post-fatality losses. Pre-fatality losses are recoverable from the date of injury to the decedent’s death, in cases where the victim did not suffer an immediate fatality. Post-fatality losses, also referred to as future losses, are losses occurring subsequent to the victim’s death, reduced to present day value.

Claimants to wrongful death actions also commonly seek recovery for psychological damages extending from the loss of a loved one. The availability of such damages is generally dependent on the relationship status between the claimant and decedent. However, in unique circumstances, where additional factors are present, there are exceptions to the general rules associated with a claimant’s right to recovery.

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Compensable losses for psychological damage can be better understood by distinguishing between three principal types of relationships with the decedent—parent, child, and spouse—each of which will be discussed in turn.

Compensation for psychological injury, sought by a parent of the decedent, generally depend on whether the decedent child was a minor or adult. In cases where the decedent child was an adult at the time of death, damages for mental pain and suffering are available to a parent in circumstances where the deceased was an only child. In accidents involving the fatality of a minor child, parents may seek compensation for losses associated with mental pain and suffering, regardless of the presence of other surviving children.

Similar to claims involving the loss of a child, claims for psychological damages associated with the loss of parent are also dependent on the child’s status as a minor or adult. In cases where the claimant is a minor child of the decedent, damages may be recovered for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance, as well as mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. These same damages are also recoverable by all other children, regardless of adult or minority status, in accidents where there no surviving spouse.

Psychological damages extending from the loss of a spouse are also compensable in wrongful death actions. In addition to recovering for mental pain and suffering, claimants may also recover for the loss of a decedent’s companionship and protection, from the date of injury.

Damages may also be awarded in wrongful death actions for medical and funeral expenses. These damages are generally available to all survivors of the decedent, provided that two circumstances are present. First, the claimant must fall within the statutory definition of ‘survivor’, set forth in Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. Second, the survivor, must have actually paid the expenses, whether medical or funeral, for which compensation is being sought.

Wrongful death actions are brought forth by the personal representative, to recover for the benefit of both the decedent’s survivors and the decedent’s estate. To view more information on this topic, we encourage you to view ‘Who Will Serve as Personal Representative,’ as well as ‘Recovery on Behalf of the Decedent’s Estate in Wrongful Death Actions.’