How Are Damages Calculated for Purposes of a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?

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The Florida Wrongful Death Act is set forth in Chapter 768, Florida Statutes. There are many moving parts and complexities to a Florida Wrongful Death case. A Florida personal injury attorney can help a family understand the respective laws and cases. Furthermore, a personal injury lawyer can represent the family in a case for damages sustained or caused by the wrongful death of the decedent. Pursuant to Section 768.21, Florida Statutes, a family member may be compensated for damages in the form of loss of support and services along with pain and suffering. A parent can pursue a case for the loss of a child. A child can pursue a case for the loss of a parent. A spouse can pursue damages for the loss or death of a spouse. In some cases depending on the age of the decedent, parents and children of the decedent can qualify as statutory survivors of the decedent for purposes of Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. A frequently asked question is the following: how are damages calculated for purposes of Florida’s Wrongful Death Act? This is an excellent question and is quite broad. I will answer the question with a case example and analysis. In Bellsouth Telecommunications v. Meeks, 863 So.2d 287 (Fla. – 2003). The Supreme Court of Florida answered the question as to how pain and suffering type of damages and related noneconomic damages should be calculated when there is a wrongful death case. The court noted that in computing the duration of future losses, the joint life expectancies of the survivor and the decedent may be considered.
An example will help further explain the above case and Florida Statute. Let’s say a person dies at the age of 46 years old. The decedent is survived by a child who is 9 years old. The surviving child qualifies as a statutory survivor under the Florida Wrongful Death Act. If the decedent had a 30 year life expectancy and the child had a 65 year life expectancy, damages would be calculated at the lesser of the two. For instance, both the decedent (if the accident or incident did not occur) and the child would have lived an estimated 30 years in to the future. If a jury decided to award the child $40,000 per year for mental pain and suffering for death of a parent, then the total award for pain and suffering could be $1,200,000. Of course, this is just an example and the jury could determine damages above or below this amount or by a different calculation. While the mode of calculation can differ, the jury would be instructed to consider and the joint life expectancy of the decedent and the survivor.
As noted by the Supreme Court in Bellsouth Communications v. Meeks, a survivor’s recovery should be measured by the joint life expectancy of the statutory survivor and the decedent.

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