Losing a loved one in a motor vehicle collision is devastating. Finding out that the collision was caused by a drunk driver makes that devastating loss even harder to handle. Although monumental efforts have been made to prevent people from drinking and driving, fatal drunk driving accidents continue to occur in Florida at an alarming rate. If you are the surviving family member of someone who was killed in a drunk driving crash, you may be entitled to compensation from the at-fault party through a wrongful death lawsuit. No amount of money will bring your loved one back; however, the law offers you the ability to hold the drunk driver legally accountable and recover both compensatory and punitive damages.
Florida Drunk Driving Facts and Figures
Across the nation, someone dies in a drunk driving accident every 45 minutes, on average, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Unfortunately, the State of Florida consistently ranks in the top three when it comes to fatal drunk driving accidents. For 2020, Florida ranked 3rd in the nation with 871 drunk driving fatalities, according to figures released by the NHTSA. To put that number in perspective, it means that, on average, 17 people are killed in an impaired driving collision every week in Florida.
Does Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Law Apply to a Drunk Driving Death?
Florida is one of several states that has enacted a “no-fault” insurance system. Florida’s no-fault insurance law requires all drivers to carry a minimum amount of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage that pays medical bills (up to $10,000) if they are injured in an accident without the need to prove fault on the part of another party. The no-fault system precludes a victim from pursuing a traditional personal injury lawsuit unless the “serious injury” threshold is exceeded. If a victim is killed in an accident, however, that threshold is met, and the surviving loved ones are not limited to the no-fault insurance system.
Is a Drunk Driving Death a Wrongful Death in Florida?
When the negligent or wrongful conduct of another party causes or contributes to injuries, the law allows the injured party to seek compensation for those injuries through a personal injury lawsuit. When injuries result in the death of a victim, the law also allows certain surviving family members to pursue compensation for the “wrongful death” of the victim.
The Florida Wrongful Death Act (FWDA) governs wrongful death lawsuits in the state, defining a wrongful death as “…the death of a person that is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person, including those occurring on navigable waters, and the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued…”
The law has classified driving under the influence of alcohol as negligence for many years, meaning that a fatality resulting from a drunk driving accident is a wrongful death in the State of Florida.
Who Can File a Florida Drunk Driving Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
While the FWDA does allow survivors to seek compensation from an at-fault party when a wrongful death occurs, the law also dictates who qualifies to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. To file as a claimant in a Florida wrongful death lawsuit, you must have had one of the following relationships with the decedent:
- The decedent’s spouse.
- The decedent’s child.
- The decedent’s parent.
- A blood relative or adopted sibling if you were partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services.
- The decedent’s child born out of wedlock, but not the child born out of wedlock of the father, unless the father has recognized a responsibility for your support.
What Compensation Is Available in a Florida Drunk Driving Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The FWDA does not allow a surviving family member to file a wrongful death lawsuit directly. Instead, the Personal Representative of the decedent’s Estate, appointed by the court, must file a lawsuit. The Personal Representative is the person responsible for overseeing the probate of the decedent’s estate and is typically the person named as Executor in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament. Although the Personal Representative is responsible for initiating and litigating a wrongful death lawsuit, both the estate and eligible survivors may seek compensation in the lawsuit. The decedent’s estate may be entitled to damages for:
- Medical and funeral expenses paid by the estate.
- Lost wages, benefits, and other earnings, including the value of lost earnings that the deceased person could reasonably have been expected to make if he or she had lived.
- Lost “prospective net accumulations” of the estate, or the present value of net savings, after living expenses, the decedent likely would have accumulated during his or her lifetime had they lived.
Eligible survivors may also be entitled to monetary damages for the emotional trauma and compensation for the financial hardship survivors experience because of the decedent’s death. Specifically, a survivor may be entitled to compensation for:
- The value of support and services the deceased person provided to the surviving family member
- Loss of companionship, guidance, and protection provided by the deceased person
- Mental and emotional pain and suffering due to the loss of a child, spouse, or parent
- Medical or funeral expenses any surviving family member has paid for the deceased person.
- Additionally, Florida law has long held that drunk driving presumptively entitles the family members of a deceased person to seek punitive damages against the driver that caused the death.
Get Help from a Florida Drunk Driving Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you are the surviving family member of someone who was killed in a Florida drunk driving collision, consult with a Florida drunk driving wrongful death lawyer at Bailey Fisher Law as soon as possible to protect your right to pursue the at-fault party. Florida law imposes a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death actions, meaning you will lose your right to hold the drunk driver accountable and secure the compensation to which you are entitled if you fail to initiate legal action within the allowable two-year time period.
Call us at 407-628-2929 or submit our online form today. A Florida drunk driving wrongful death lawyer will evaluate your case for free. For viable personal injury cases, we will follow up with the necessary legal action to hold the responsible party accountable for their negligence and recover the financial compensation you deserve for your pain, suffering, and losses.