Understanding Florida Wrongful Death Laws: A Comprehensive Guide

Losing a loved one is an incredibly challenging experience, and when that loss is the result of someone else’s negligence or misconduct, it can be particularly devastating. Wrongful death laws exist to provide a legal avenue for seeking justice and compensation for the surviving family members. In Florida, these laws are designed to address the repercussions of such tragic events and offer a framework for pursuing a wrongful death claim.

What is Considered Wrongful Death Under Florida Law?

Wrongful death, as defined in the legal context, occurs when a person loses their life due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions of another party. This legal concept acknowledges that certain individuals, who may not have been directly harmed but are nonetheless affected by the loss, deserve compensation for their emotional and financial damages.

In Florida, the Wrongful Death Act (Chapter 768 of the Florida Statutes) provides the legal foundation for pursuing claims when someone’s death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any person.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Florida?

Statutory Beneficiaries

Florida’s Wrongful Death Act designates specific individuals who are eligible to file a wrongful death claim. These statutory beneficiaries are classified into categories, each with its own criteria for eligibility. The following are the primary categories of statutory beneficiaries:


  • The surviving spouse of the deceased has the primary right to file a wrongful death claim.
  • If the couple had children together, the spouse may also represent the children’s interests in the legal action.


  • If the deceased person had surviving children, they have the right to file a wrongful death claim independently of the spouse.
  • In cases where the deceased had no surviving spouse, the children may collectively bring the action.


  • In situations where the deceased person had no surviving spouse or children, the parents of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim.
  • If the deceased had a surviving spouse but no children, the parents may still file jointly with the spouse.

Other Dependents:

  • In certain circumstances, individuals who were partially or wholly dependent on the deceased for support or services may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
  • This category may include blood relatives or adoptive siblings who can demonstrate financial dependence on the deceased.

It’s important to note that the order of priority is established by Florida law. For instance, if there is a surviving spouse, they typically have the primary right to file the claim. In relation to this, if there is no surviving spouse, the right may shift to the children, parents, or other dependents in accordance with the statutory order.

Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Florida

Florida law imposes strict deadlines, known as statutes of limitations, within which a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed. Failing to initiate legal action within these timeframes can result in the forfeiture of the right to pursue a claim. The specific time limits for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Florida are outlined in the Florida Statutes, Section 95.11(4)(d).

General Timeframe

In most cases, the general statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Florida is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. This means that a lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date on which the individual passed away due to the alleged wrongful act or negligence.

Discovery Rule

In some situations, the cause of death or the connection to wrongful conduct may not be immediately apparent. Florida recognizes the “discovery rule,” allowing the two-year period to commence from the time when the cause of death is discovered or should have been discovered through reasonable diligence.

Damages in Wrongful Death Cases in Florida

Economic Damages

Medical Expenses:

  • One of the primary economic damages in a wrongful death case involves the reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by the deceased as a result of the wrongful act or negligence.
  • This may include hospitalization, treatment, medication, and other related medical costs.

Funeral and Burial Costs:

  • The costs associated with the deceased person’s funeral and burial are considered economic damages.
  • Surviving family members may seek compensation for reasonable and necessary expenses related to these funeral and burial services.

Loss of Support and Services:

  • Economic damages also encompass the loss of financial support and services that the deceased would have provided to the family.
  • This includes the value of income, benefits, and services such as childcare, household maintenance, and other forms of support.

Non-Economic Damages

Pain and Suffering:

  • Non-economic damages are designed to compensate surviving family members for the emotional pain, suffering, and mental anguish resulting from the wrongful death.
  • While it is challenging to quantify these damages, they aim to address the intangible losses experienced by the survivors.

Loss of Companionship:

  • Another non-economic damage is the loss of companionship, guidance, and protection that the deceased would have provided to their family.
  • This category acknowledges the emotional impact of losing a loved one’s presence and support.

Punitive Damages

  • In certain cases involving intentional misconduct or gross negligence, punitive damages may be awarded.
  • Punitive damages are intended to punish the responsible party and deter similar conduct in the future.
  • Florida law sets specific criteria for the award of punitive damages, requiring clear and convincing evidence of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

Survival Actions in Florida

Distinction Between Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

Wrongful Death Actions

  • Wrongful death actions are brought by the statutory beneficiaries (spouse, children, parents, or other dependents) to seek compensation for the losses they have suffered as a result of the deceased person’s death.
  • These actions focus on the damages experienced by the surviving family members, such as loss of support, services, companionship, and other related economic and non-economic losses.

Survival Actions

  • Survival actions, on the other hand, are distinct legal claims that address the damages incurred by the deceased person before their death.
  • This includes the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased, medical expenses related to the injury or illness that led to their death, and any other losses that the deceased would have been entitled to recover if they had survived.

Timing of Actions:

  • Wrongful death actions are initiated by the surviving family members after the death has occurred.
  • Survival actions, however, can be pursued by the estate of the deceased during their lifetime or by the personal representative of the estate after their death.

Pursuing Both Claims Simultaneously

In certain situations, it may be appropriate to pursue both a wrongful death action and a survival action simultaneously. Joint filings allow for a comprehensive approach, addressing the damages suffered by both the surviving family members and the deceased individual.

Distribution of Damages

Damages awarded in survival actions typically become part of the deceased person’s estate and are distributed according to their will or Florida’s intestacy laws. Damages in wrongful death actions are distributed to the statutory beneficiaries in accordance with the Wrongful Death Act.

Choose a Proven and Compassionate Florida Wrongful Death Lawyer to Get Justice and Compensation

Attorney Robert W. Rust, Esq. of Rust Injury Law has extensive experience and deep legal knowledge about Florida’s wrongful death laws. Attorney Rust will leave no stone unturned to pursue justice for the loss of your loved one and fight for the largest possible compensation on your behalf. Call us today at 305-200-8856 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.