"No amount of money can bring back a lost loved one. There's nothing the legal system can do to soothe your pain or heal your grief, but it can make it easier to alleviate the stress of wondering how you're going to survive financially if the person you depended on is no longer available to provide income."
Losing a loved one is devastating.
You shouldn't have to suffer financially, too.
Maggie's parents, James and Lisa Paxton, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle. Miguel Figueroa, the defendant, was driving his BMW at a high rate of speed when he "violently" hit Maggie and then fled the scene. Maggie was declared deceased when police and first responders arrived on the scene minutes later. Figueroa never returned to the scene but physical evidence, surveillance footage, and witness statements led investigators to identify and locate him and the vehicle.
In a later development in July 2021, Gainesville police arrested Figueroa's son Joshua, age 31, as the driver of the vehicle. Although Miguel was named in the civil suit as the owner of the vehicle, it's likely that Joshua will be added to the civil lawsuit.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is substantially the same as a personal injury lawsuit, except that it's filed by the survivor of a person who died as a result of a person's or entity's negligence.
You can file a wrongful death lawsuit if the deceased person would have had the right to sue for a personal injury had they survived.
How does wrongful death differ from a violent crime?
There are situations when a fatality leads to both civil and criminal proceedings, which are separate. They are handled in different courts and involve different people and outcomes. In some Gainesville car accidents like what happened to Maggie, the defendants are both sued by the deceased's family and face criminal charges.
Only a federal, state or local prosecutor can charge someone with a crime. If found guilty of homicide, murder or manslaughter, the defendant could face a range of penalties such as fines, driver's license revocation, jail time, community service and probation.
A civil lawsuit is your best option for recourse if you believe you're entitled to recover money for the defendant's negligence that resulted in the wrongful death of your family member. Your lawsuit doesn't result in jail or criminal justice — the only outcome is that you could receive a financial award (i.e. money).
The law can be tricky to navigate, even for lawyers and courts. At its core, there are two principles: criminal law and civil law. Know which one applies to your situation and how to handle it.
The most well-known instance of how a wrongful death can result in different outcomes in civil and criminal courts is the case against O.J. Simpson. The criminal trial jury found Simpson not guilty of murder in the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. However, the families of Nicole and Ronald Goldman sued Simpson in civil court for wrongful death and he was found liable in that trial.
How can that be possible?
The reason is that criminal and civil law have different burdens of proof.
A criminal jury needs to find that guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict. In civil court, on the other hand, the plaintiff must only prove that the defendant's conduct resulted in the victim's death by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower standard.
In O.J. Simpson's case, the civil court determined that it was more likely than not that he caused the deaths of Nicole and Ronald Goldman. The criminal trial jury determined that the prosecution did not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the way the legal system works, both are valid.
And, of course, not every wrongful death is a crime. Sometimes, it's an accident and does not lead to criminal charges.
If you believe that your loved one was the victim of a crime, you can work with police so they can determine whether someone should be criminally charged. If the accident was not a crime, you can pursue recourse in civil court as damages (costs) related to the injury.
Florida wrongful death statute of limitations
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
In Gainesville (and throughout Florida), the only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit is the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. Usually, this is the estate's executor but if the person didn't have a will at the time of their death, the court would assign a representative (often a spouse or child).
A wrongful death claim can be brought on behalf of the estate or the deceased person's beneficiaries. A beneficiary is usually the spouse, child, or parents, but could be any person who was financially dependent on the person before their death.
Like Paxton's family, the family of Sophia Lambert filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking more than $100,000 in damages. The defendants in Lambert's case include the drivers and owners of the involved vehicles, Uber, and Uber subsidiary Portier LLC because the driver was on an UberEats delivery at the time of the crash.
The driver of a 2015 Honda accord violated the right of way because he made a left-hand turn in front of the UberEats driver, who was speeding. When the 2 cars collided, the UberEats driver's vehicle skidded out of control and hit a pole before colliding with Lambert and her friends on the sidewalk. Lambert was thrown more than 30 feet in the air.
What damages are available in a Gainesville wrongful death lawsuit?
Damages is the legal term used to describe the amount of money you can recover in a civil lawsuit. The court system is designed to make a plaintiff whole, or to restore you to the financial situation you'd be in if the accident hadn't happened.
If the deceased survived an accident or injury for a period of time prior to their death, the claim can be filed on behalf of their estate as if the person had lived. This is called a survival action. In this instance, you can claim:
- Costs for medical treatment
- Lost wages, current and future
- Pain and suffering (of the deceased person prior to death)
- Mental anguish
- Funeral and burial expenses
If you're a family member of a victim of wrongful death, you can receive damages for:
When you've lost a loved one to the negligence of another, you deserve JUSTICE.
How a Gainesville lawyer will handle your wrongful death claim
Your lawyer serves several purposes.
First, they will advise you of all of your options. Depending on the type of accident, you might be able to recover fully through insurance or workers' compensation benefits. If neither of those avenues would satisfy your claim or provide the entirety of costs, you can explore filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party.
Second, the lawyer will conduct their own investigation into your family member's death. For instance, they will look at every angle of a Gainesville car accident or truck accident to determine exactly who is at fault and make a strong case for that person's liability.
Third, your lawyer will work with a variety of financial and actuarial experts to determine exactly what you're owed for a family member's wrongful death. This might include expected earnings for what should have been their lifetime, additional costs that you now need to bear for household expenses like childcare or upkeep, and other things you might not think of.
Finally, your lawyer will minimize your loved one's liability (if it exists) in order to get you the maximum amount of compensation possible.
Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. That means in a personal injury lawsuit (which includes wrongful death), the plaintiff's damages would be reduced by their percentage of fault. No one wants to blame someone for being partially responsible for their own accidental death, but sometimes it happens.
For instance, let's say a person died in a car crash. The other driver caused the accident by failing to stop at a red light, but the person who died was speeding, even though they had the right of way. The court could find that they were 20% liable for the accident that resulted in their own death. Their survivors might still be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, but their amount of damages would be reduced by 20%.
There is no doubt that losing a loved one in an accident is likely one of the hardest times in your life. A lawsuit can never replace their companionship, love, or any of the things you remember about them — but it can help ease your financial burden. If the fatal accident left you with additional bills to pay or you are without a steady source of income after a family member's death, you need to seek the guidance of a lawyer who will make sure to represent your interests.
Need a lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more