Losing a loved one is devastating enough, but when that loss is based on the actions of another person, the sudden loss to a preventable accident can leave close friends and family members feeling betrayed (in the case of medical malpractice or the careless actions of a supposed caregiver), guilty if they survived the same accident, helpless, angry and remorseful. These are difficult feelings to deal with, and it's hard to know where to turn.
If you've lost a family member, one option to consider early on is a wrongful death lawsuit. But it's important you understand exactly how the process works and what steps you should take to ensure you have the best possible outcome.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case?
This is the most important question to answer, and your Orlando personal injury attorney can help you sort through the details. The reality is, to get a wrongful death judgement, you have to first prove the defendant had a legal duty to keep your family member from harm.
Once a duty is proven, they must then move on to proving the defendant was actually negligent. For example, if someone dies as the result of a medical procedure, it's important to know whether the doctor was actually negligent (his or her actions caused the death) or acted in good faith using a medical device or drug that he or she had no reason to suspect was potentially dangerous.
After negligence is proven, the lawyer has to prove that person's or entity's negligence was the direct cause of the death. Being negligent doesn't mean that negligence actually lead to the death.
Things can get tricky when someone dies after two negligent acts. If someone is hit by a car driven by a distracted driver, then improperly treated by a negligent paramedic, you may need to be able to determine which negligent act actually resulted in the death.
What If You Can't Prove Wrongful Death?
Just because you can't prove the defendant was completely responsible for the accident doesn't mean you don't have a case of any kind. Often, accidents that cause death are partially the fault of both individuals involved. If that's the case, the court may determine to what degree each person is responsible and reduce your claim by the percentage it's determined the loved one of the plaintiff was responsible.
What Happens Once Wrongful Death is Proven?
Once your personal injury lawyer proves the defendant had a duty to prevent harm, was negligent and that the negligence was the direct cause of the fatal accident, he or she then has to prove compensatory damages (damages for actual monetary loss). It's unfortunate, but the court can only award such damages based on the monetary value of your loss.
The monetary value of your loss is based on complex factors such as age, educational level, future earning potential (based on career path). Basically, the potential earning capacity of your lost loved one will determine how much money you receive. The compensatory damages for a retiree are likely to be far lower than that for a young professional with a college education who was about to get a big promotion at work.
That said, you may also qualify to receive punitive damages (a monetary award meant to punish the defendant or act as a deterrent). In Florida, to receive punitive damages, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's actions were the result of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. It's difficult to know how each court will apply this standard, making it vital to have a qualified personal injury lawyer familiar with the local trends.
How Do You Hire the Right Attorney?
First, you need an attorney with a good reputation for handling wrongful death cases in Orlando. The Draper Law Office employs several attorneys with experience doing just that. You can contact us through our website or call us at 866.767.4711 for a free consultation. We'll go over the details of your case with sensitivity and respect for your loss while helping you determine whether you have a case, what the best way to move forward is (including helping you determine potential compensatory damages), and whether or not you should seek punitive damages. There's no obligation after the consultation, and you won't pay anything unless we get you a settlement.