Can You Sue A Family Member For Wrongful Death?

Although Florida imposes some restrictions regarding who may be sued for a wrongful death, it is, in fact, possible to sue some family members in some circumstances.

A wrongful death is always tragic and always unexpected. You’re about to learn some of the details regarding wrongful death lawsuits in Florida, who can sue for a wrongful death, who can be sued, and how a wrongful death lawyer can help.

A wrongful death claim is a civil action that may be brought by surviving family members who have lost a loved one because another party was negligent.

HOW DO WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS HELP SURVIVING FAMILY MEMBERS?

While cash alone can never assuage a family’s grief over the unexpected and sudden death of a family member, wrongful death claims help families avoid the financial hardships that plague so many families after a loved one’s death.

In Palm Beach County and throughout Florida, when one party’s negligence was a direct cause of another person’s death, the negligent party may be held liable with a wrongful death action.

Historically, the legal principle known as “family immunity” prevented a family member from suing a second family member for the wrongful death of a third family member.

HOW DID “FAMILY IMMUNITY” WORK?

For example, if a husband and wife were traveling together, and the wife died because of the husband’s negligent driving, their children could not sue the husband/father for wrongful death.

Family immunity was intended to keep families from splitting apart, but it was also meant to keep families from conspiring to get into a bogus “accident” so that one family member could collect damages in a personal injury claim against another family member’s insurance company.

The problem was that the principle of family immunity left far too many personal injury victims with no way to be compensated for their medical bills and lost wages after a serious accident.

Family immunity also left far too many surviving family members of wrongful death victims with no reimbursement for their losses. Today, many states have abolished the family immunity principle.

CAN CHILDREN IN FLORIDA SUE THEIR PARENTS FOR NEGLIGENCE?

In Florida, however, and speaking generally, a child still may not sue a parent for negligence. In a 1982 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court proclaimed:

“Protecting the family unit is a significant public policy behind parental immunity. We are greatly concerned by any intrusion that might adversely affect the family relationship. Litigation between family members would be such an intrusion.”

However, the Florida Supreme Court has allowed exceptions to parental immunity, and if a child dies in Florida because of a parent’s negligence, in most cases, a representative of the child may file a wrongful death action on his or her behalf.

WHO MAY FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM IN FLORIDA?

Only adults age 18 and over have standing to file a wrongful death claim in Florida, but a parent or guardian may represent a child and bring a wrongful death claim on a child’s behalf.

Spouses may not sue one another in Florida, but in any other situation, if you have lost a loved one in Florida because another family member was negligent, the smartest thing you can do is to discuss the details of the case with an experienced West Palm Beach wrongful death attorney.

Your attorney will review the details of the case and explain how the law applies in your own situation. If you have grounds for a wrongful death claim, your attorney will explain how a wrongful death claim works, and if you choose to act, your attorney will help.

WHAT IS A HOUSEHOLD EXCLUSION CLAUSE?

However, here in Florida, your right to file a wrongful death claim against a member of your own family may be impaired in cases arising from traffic collisions if your auto insurance policy includes a “household exclusion clause.”

When the states began to eliminate the family immunity principle from state laws, insurance companies responded by adding a household exclusion clause to auto insurance policies.

If an insurance policy has a household exclusion clause, family members may not collect from an auto insurer for a wrongful death that any other member of the household has caused by negligence.

In the state of Florida, it is absolutely imperative that auto insurance policyholders fully understand the terms, conditions, and provisions of their automobile insurance policies.

HOW ARE MOST WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS RESOLVED IN FLORIDA?

If you file a wrongful death claim in Florida, you should know that most wrongful death actions in this state are settled in out-of-court negotiations when attorneys for both sides meet privately to resolve the claim.

However, if no acceptable settlement is offered during these negotiations, your wrongful death lawyer will not hesitate to take your case to trial and demand the compensation that your family needs and deserves.

In some Florida wrongful death cases, along with compensation for the losses suffered by surviving family members, a court may also choose to award punitive damages to punish the negligent party and to deter similar negligence in the future.

HOW QUICKLY DO YOU HAVE TO ACT AFTER A WRONGFUL DEATH?

If you lose a loved one in a wrongful death incident in Florida, as difficult as it might be for your family, you need to discuss your family’s rights and options at once with a wrongful death lawyer.

Florida imposes a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims, so if you wait more than two years to take legal action after a wrongful death, the courts in Florida will not hear your case.

Don’t wait two years after a wrongful death – and then scramble to file a lawsuit at the last minute. Don’t even wait two weeks. After a wrongful death in south Florida, put your case immediately in the hands of a wrongful death attorney.

WHAT WILL IT COST YOU TO LEARN MORE?

If your family has lost a loved one in a wrongful death, most wrongful death attorneys in Florida will provide you with a free first consultation and case review. It will cost you and your family nothing to learn more about your rights and where you stand legally after a wrongful death.

If your lawyer recommends a wrongful death lawsuit, you’ll pay no fees until your attorney obtains an out-of-court settlement or a jury verdict on your family’s behalf.

If you have lost a loved one suddenly and accidentally because someone else was negligent, your family should be compensated. If the negligent person was also a member of your family, you may or may not be able to obtain that compensation in Florida.

You’ll need to have a wrongful death attorney look at the details of the wrongful death. It won’t cost you anything to get the legal advice you need – and it’s your right.

How Can a West Palm Beach Wrongful Death Attorney Help Me?

Legal action may not be the first thing you think of following the death of a loved one. However, if your loved one has passed as a result of negligence or intentional harm, then time is of the essence for taking legal action and you must contact a team of wrongful death attorneys in West Palm Beach as soon as possible.

A wrongful death may result in a great financial burden for the decedent’s spouse or dependents. Not just in loss of income from the person’s wages if they were working and supporting the people they left behind, but often a wrongful death case may leave the survivors with extensive medical bills, funeral costs, and other financial strains. The beneficiaries of the deceased may be entitled to financial compensation from the party responsible for the death.

How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help

An experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to help the survivors recover from the financial burden by helping them file a wrongful death claim and take it to court if necessary. The legal process can be lengthy and complicated. Hiring a skilled wrongful death attorney to represent the plaintiff in court and guide them through the legal process will give the beneficiary the best chance possible in receiving fair financial compensation for their loss.

The process of a wrongful death case can be complex. A good wrongful death attorney will be able to walk you through it and work on your behalf to get you the compensation that is deserved. The process involves pre-litigation and investigation, litigation, and arbitration before it can be brought to trial. A settlement may be agreed upon before the case is taken to trial, in which case your attorney would negotiate the terms of the settlement. If the case makes it to trial without a settlement being reached, then your attorney will demonstrate your case to the court. Following the trial, either case may file an appeal. If a legal error has been made that affected the outcome of the results, then your attorney can file an appeal for you to bring the case in front of another court. Once the lawsuit has ended, then the plaintiff can collect any damages that have been awarded. Without the help of an experienced wrongful death lawyer, the beneficiary may not receive fair compensation for their loss.

Hiring an Attorney

Fortunately for those in the West Palm Beach area, there are several qualified attorneys that would be capable of taking their case. When hiring a wrongful death attorney, there are three important factors to keep in mind:

  1. Reputation: Talk with other people in the industry for their recommendations of a good wrongful death attorney that can help you. You can also follow up recommendations by checking the Florida state’s legal board. It’s easy to find reviews of attorneys online. You’ll be able to check online reviews to find a good, reputable attorney.
  2. Cost: Wrongful death attorneys will sometimes require a retainer or may be compensated based on a percentage of the settlement. It’s important to find out how costs are determined. A good attorney will be upfront and honest about how payment is to be made.
  3. Experience: Many wrongful death attorneys will offer a consultation. Take advantage of this time to inquire about the attorney’s record and experience with similar cases.

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?

If you have recently been awarded a wrongful death settlement in Florida or are in the process of filing a lawsuit, then you’ll want to know if your financial compensation will be taxable and how a wrongful death lawyer can help. In general, the IRS has ruled that compensatory damages are not typically taxable. This is due to their nature of being intended to provide compensation for the beneficiaries of the suit for their loss. However, there are situations where the settlement funds are taxable. This applies to cases that have been filed and compensation awarded in the West Palm Beach area as well as the rest of Florida.

Determining the Type of Damages

There are two factors that will determine if the amount owed is subject to being taxed. The IRS makes a distinction between compensatory damages and punitive damages. Whether or not your settlement is taxable is contingent on how it is categorized.

  1. Compensatory damages: Compensatory damages are the funds awarded to the victim’s beneficiary to compensate for funeral and burial costs, medical bills, and expenses that were incurred as a result of the death. Compensatory damages may include lost income and future income estimates as well. This calculation is based on the age of the victim, their average life expectancy, and the earning potential of the victim for the anticipated remaining years in the workplace. Factors such as the loss of companionship and non-economic household contributions may be included with compensatory damages.
  2. Punitive damages: Punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages will not be awarded in every case. This type of financial award is intended to discipline the defendant and dissuade them from committing similar future acts. Punitive damages are awarded when the court determines that the defendant’s intentional, negligent, or reckless actions were the cause of the victim’s death. Often, this occurs when the actions of the defendant were particularly outrageous.

The IRS does not require taxes to be taken out of compensatory damages awarded in personal injury settlements or judgments awards. Wrongful death suits are included in this statement.

However, the IRS sees punitive damages differently. Punitive damages are acting as a punishment so the IRS will charge taxes on these awards. In the agreement, the funds may not be referred to as punitive damages, but instead called exemplary damages. Whether your settlement refers to these funds as exemplary or punitive, you should be aware that it will count as income on your tax return and you must pay the applicable taxes.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to these general rules. Portions of compensatory damages may be considered taxable if you had taken deductions from your income in previous years to pay medical bills related to the event that resulted in the death of your loved one. If you are awarded a financial settlement, then you must report a portion of your award that is equal to the amount you claimed as a medical deduction in the past. Punitive damages are also subject to exceptions and may be considered non-taxable in certain cases. However, it’s best to consult with a wrongful death lawyer or tax professional as the rules can be complicated regarding whether or not you qualify for an exemption.

For more information, speak to one of our wrongful death attorneys today.