Florida Court Vacates Damages Award in Case Arising Out of a Fatal Car Accident

Losing a loved one in a car accident can cause significant emotional and mental trauma. As such, surviving family members are often able to recover damages for their suffering and pain from the party responsible for the accident. Such compensation is calculated based on the life expectancy of the survivor, and if he or she dies prior to an award being issued, no damages will be awarded. This was demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion, in which the court reduced a $5,000,000 damages award to $0 due to the death of the surviving heir prior to the judgment being made final. If you lost a loved one in a fatal car crash, you have the right to pursue compensation, and it is advisable to speak to a skillful Florida car accident attorney to assess your options.

The Procedural History

It is reported that the decedent died in a collision on a road that was next to the defendant travel center. The decedent’s estate then filed a lawsuit against the defendant pursuant to Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. A jury found in favor of the estate and awarded the decedent’s sole survivor $5,000,000 in damages for mental suffering and pain. The defendant filed a motion for a new trial, but while that motion was pending, the surviving heir died. The court then denied the motion.

Allegedly, the defendant then moved for relief from the judgment, arguing that the damages should be reduced to $0 pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 768.24, which states that a survivor’s death prior to a final judgment must limit his or her recovery to lost services and support to the date of the survivor’s death. The court found that as the motion for a new trial was pending when the survivor died, the judgment was not yet final and granted the defendant’s motion. The estate then appealed.

Final Judgment Under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act

On appeal, the court noted that “final judgment” was not defined by the Florida Wrongful Death Act. It had, however, been defined by the Florida courts in different ways in different contexts. In some instances, it was determined to mean a judgment that was entered after any appellate remedies had been exhausted, while in other cases, it was defined as a judgment entered by a trial court without consideration of any appeal or post-judgment motion.

The court explained that while the Act stated that the losses a survivor suffers following the wrongful death of a decedent shift to the wrongdoer when a person who would be entitled to damages for future mental anguish dies, no trauma is suffered, and there is nothing to shift. Further, the court noted that the plain language of the Act stated that a survivor’s death prior to final judgment would limit the survivor’s recovery. Ultimately, the court found that the survivor died before the final judgment occurred and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted Florida Attorney

Car crashes often cause significant injuries, and unfortunately, in many cases, the harm suffered is fatal. If you lost a loved one in a collision, you might be owed substantial damages, and it is advisable to meet with an attorney regarding your options. Jarrett Blakeley is a trusted Florida attorney who is adept at helping people who have lost family members in fatal car accidents seek the maximum compensation available under the law, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly to help you seek a just result. You can reach Mr. Blakeley at (800) 602-5000 or through the form online to schedule a meeting.

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