Average Wrongful Death Settlement in Florida

how are wrongful death settlements paid out

What is the average wrongful death settlement in Florida? The answer is that there is no such thing as a meaningful average. Although it might be possible to calculate an average, this figure would be meaningless and misleading. The amount of your wrongful death lawsuit payout depends on the facts of your case. Nevertheless, the amount of a successful claim is still likely to be substantial, unless the victim was at fault for the fatal accident.

How Florida Wrongful Death Claims Work

You can think of a Florida wrongful death claim as something like a personal injury claim, except that the victim died. Obviously, a dead person cannot file a lawsuit or negotiate a wrongful death car accident settlement. Instead, the personal representative of the victim’s probate estate files the lawsuit. Damages go to surviving relatives and to the estate itself.

Elements of Damages

The damages available in a wrongful death claim are different from the damages available in a personal injury claim. The following damages compensate surviving family members: 

  • Loss of financial support and services that the deceased victim provided;
  • Loss of protection and companionship;
  • Loss of parental guidance; 
  • Mental anguish and grief due to the death of the victim; and
  • Any funeral, burial, and medical expenses that a survivor paid.

Florida wrongful death law also allows courts to award punitive damages when the facts of the case justify them. Most cases do not qualify, even when the claimant is otherwise victorious.

The court must find that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

A higher standard of proof—”clear and convincing evidence”—applies to the award of punitive damages. Additionally, Florida limits non-economic (intangible) damages to three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $500,000, whichever is higher.

Comparative Fault

Comparative fault rules kick in when the accident that killed the victim was the fault of more than one person. Typically, the defendant seeks to prove that the accident was at least partially the victim’s fault. Courts expect each party to pay that portion of their own damages that corresponds to their percentage of fault for the accident. 

If the victim was 35% at fault, for example, the other party (assuming a two-party accident) must pay 65% of the wrongful death damages. Florida allows you to recover a minority of damages even if the victim was mostly at fault for the accident. If the deceased person was 90% at fault, for example, their estate could collect 10% of the wrongful death damages.

Practical Factors

Other factors can influence the ultimate size of your award as well. These factors are often overlooked, but they can exert a decisive influence. 

Insurance Policy Limits

It doesn’t matter how much you win if the opposing party cannot pay it. Suppose, for example, that your loved one was hit and killed by a drunk driver. The court awards $1 million in wrongful death damages. However, the driver has only $50,000 in liability insurance. If the driver cannot afford to pay the judgment out of their own pocket, you will likely be unable to collect the full value of your damages.

Well-insured defendants

Commercial truckers and Uber drivers carry generous liability insurance policies that, depending on the circumstances, could cover a million-dollar claim or even more.  

Availability of third-party defendants

Can you sue the driver’s employer for the negligence of the driver? Strictly speaking, the answer is yes, employers are generally liable for the financial consequences of wrongful behavior committed by their on-duty employees. Unfortunately, most commercial truckers are independent contractors rather than employees. The same applies to Uber drivers. 

Your Lawyer’s Negotiation (or Litigation) Skills

The negotiating skills of your lawyer is perhaps the most overlooked component that determines how much money you will eventually receive. If your lawyer is skilled enough, you may receive far more than you would have received if you had negotiated the claim yourself, even after paying your legal fees.

Although most wrongful death settlements in Florida are resolved at the settlement table, some of them do go to trial. Consequently, your lawyer must have demonstrated ability to win at trial. This matters even at the negotiating table, since the opposing party has no motivation to settle with a claimant whose lawyer cannot win a trial.

Settling Without a Lawyer (or with an Ineffective Lawyer)

Settling your claim without a lawyer makes about as much sense as performing surgery on yourself without a doctor. Insurance company adjusters are professional negotiators, and they love claimants who attempt to represent themselves at the negotiating table. Allowing “my cousin Vinnie” to represent you isn’t likely to turn out well either, unless “Vinnie” is an experienced personal injury/wrongful death lawyer. 

Now Is the Time to Begin Preparing Your Claim

Emmanuel Sheppard & Condon has been fighting for the rights of injured victims, and the families of car accident victims who have lost their lives, for over 100 years now.  Contact us by calling 850-444-4878 or by visiting our online contact page.