There are few things we as people endure that are worse than losing a member of our family. The sense of loss, hurt, and anguish, however, is only magnified when a family member’s death was due to the negligence of someone else. What all-too-often causes even more heartache is the surviving family member’s discovery that the loss they have endured may not be recognized, i.e. compensable, under Florida law. Many people who have lost close family members as a result of the negligence of someone else have been surprised to learn that Florida law only allows for a financial recovery on behalf of certain surviving family members.
In Florida, the recovery of money damages by the surviving relatives for the death of a family member as the result of the negligence of another party is governed by Florida’s Wrongful Death Act (“Act”). According to the Act, the recovery of money damages is limited to the “survivors” of the deceased family member. The Act offers what would seem to be a fairly straightforward definition of who will constitute a deceased family member’s “survivors.” The Act defines survivors, in part, as “the decedent’s spouse, children, parents, and, when partly or wholly dependent on the decedent for support or services, any blood relatives and adoptive brothers and sisters.” Although the identification of a decedent’s survivors is ordinarily an easy enough task, it is critical for the lawyer representing the bereaved family to have a firm understanding of the relationship between family law principles and the Wrongful Death Act.