How Can I Recover When My Loved One Dies?
Personal injury cases that involve a death are called "wrongful death" cases.
This is an exceptionally difficult and emotional time for family members, and I send my sincerest condolences to anyone that has lost a loved one due to someone's elses carelessness.
When a fatal accident occurs and a loved one is lost, there are four essential steps to keep in mind:
Step 1) An investigation should take place as soon as possible.
Even if there has already been a homicide investigation, the scene should be surveyed by appropriate professionals.
If we were to handle a wrongful death case, we would send our private investigator, Dale. Dale would do a survey of the area where the accident happened. A recording camera could be helpful in uncovering key details, espeically if there were no witnesses to the accident.
Cameras are everywhere. They are on nearby buildings, at most intersections, and even dashboard cameras are in most cars and commercial vehicles these days.
Step 2) Review of possible witness interviews.
Interviewing the witnesses to a fatal accident is crucial in any wrongdul death case. Memories can fade quickly so this should be done as soon as possible as well, while the information is still fresh.
It is also important to keep up-to-date information on witnesses as some people change addresses and phone numbers frequently. Some wrongful death cases can take years to settle or go to trial. Preserving those witnesses' contact information and statements is vital.
Step 3) Recover any important evidence that could be lost or destroyed.
Important evidence can range from the decedent’s (the deceased person) clothing to the vehicle involved in the crash. Law enforcement will impound vehicles and keep evidence for a short period of time in a motor vehicle case, however could discard it when impounding the vehicle.
Step 4) Open an estate.
Wrongful death cases require the appointment of a personal representative to handle all claims on behalf of the decedent. This person is usually a family member, such as a surviving spouse or parent.
Generally, it is not a good iea to handle the opening of an estate BEFORE handling the wrongful death claim. Waiting for a meeting with an estate lawyer can cost valuable time, and the evidence you need for your wrongful death case may be lost. Probate (opening an estate) is not usually considered an urgent issue.
Common Question: "Should I hire one lawyer for the wrongful death claim and another lawyer to handle the estate?"
This is a great question.
In my office many years ago, I concluded that we could best serve our clients by creating teams for wrongful death cases that could handle both the opening of the estate along with the filing of the wrongdul death suit as needed. This can speed up the process and potentially put the survivers of the deceased in a better position.
Forming a team early to handle necessary estate duties in addition to working with a personal injury team can be crucial and lead to a better result.
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Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?
A “personal representative” of the decedent can bring a wrongful death claim. A personal representative may include:
- Domestic partner
- Anyone who will suffer financially, whether related or not
The personal representative is required by law to bring all claims and can be removed if he or she is not bringing all lawful claims.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida?
Florida allows two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, in some wrongful death cases it may not be in your best interest to file a lawsuit immediately.
Deciding when to actually file a lawsuit in court is a decision you should make with your lawyer. It is a decision to make after evaluating the pros and cons of filing a suit early versus later.