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The Rights of Parents Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act for the Death of a Minor or Adult Child

Of all the cases that our firm handles, wrongful death takes the greatest emotional toll on us as personal injury lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida. It is always the hardest when a child has died. Wrongful death takes a special toll on me, having lost a brother, father and grandfather all in a two year span back in the early 1980s. My brother was only nine years old when they wheeled him into to surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. His fear was palpable. Unfortunately, after his surgery, we believe he was administered the wrong amount of medication and died as a consequence. This was before I was a lawyer. In fact, it was the summer before my senior year in high school here in Jacksonville, Florida. We never followed up on my brother’s death, and to this day I can’t tell you what really happened.

I have come a long way since then. When a child dies the despair a parent feels is unimaginable. Clients come to us often times not knowing what happened and why their precious child died. In our practice as Jacksonville wrongful death and personal injury lawyers, it is often our tasks to investigate and find the answers. Recently, in order to determine why their youngest child was killed, $50,000.00 was spent on expert witnesses — even before a lawsuit was filed. Harkening back to my brother,  I think to myself, I wish I knew then what I know now.

As I sit here preparing for the deposition of two of my clients who lost a grown daughter in a horrible incident caused by the negligence of multiple parties, I was thinking how many other parents are out there wondering why a child of theirs was killed in a horrible incident and what rights they may have as parents.  The Florida Wrongful Death Act can be very confusing, even for lawyers and judges. The damages available to parents for the death of a child under the age of 25 include: (1) mental pain and suffering caused by the loss of their child – this is often referred to as grief damages; (2) the value of lost support and services from the date of injury to the date of the child’s death; (3) future lost support and services from the date of death reduced to present value; and (4) medical and funeral expenses of the child which the parents paid. If the child is over the age of 25, and has no “survivors (i.e., has no children and no spouse), the parents can still claim all of these damages. If the child is over the age of 25 and has a spouse or children, then the parents cannot make any claim for grief damages. If you think that this last rule is unfair, you are not alone.

The treatise Florida Personal Injury Law and Practice, authored by Thomas D. Sawaya, includes the following beautifully written and heart wrenching critique of Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute’s rule for not allowing grief damages by parents of children over the age of 25:

The legislature must also recognize that the love, affection and devotion that a parent has for his [or her] child is boundless and is never limited by the fact that the parent may have other “survivors.”  Love is our most sacred emotion and lies at the heart of the human spirit.  It is the universal bond of all mankind and can never be so profound as when we nurture and love a child; cradle the infant close to the breast; sense the warmth of its body and touch the glistening softness of its delicate skin; gaze into its twinkling, curious eyes; bestow solace to its melancholy heart; and allay fears when the night’s slumber arouses the demons of dreams.  As the child blossoms to maturity, society and friendship between parent and child flourish and the beatitudes of parenthood abound with crisp wintry evenings spent together in celebration of Christmas which brings special joy and merriment known only to that time of year; the excitement of the child’s first love – that special of youth’s innocent beauty when the heart becomes acquainted with the tender affairs of life; and the day of betrothal when the father’s pride ascends to its apex and the mother’s heart fills with an exuberant mixture of happiness and hope.

The love and friendship between parent and child multiplies as the child begets child and love emanates from parent to child to grandchild.  When life of any child is wrongfully taken from its parent and this bond of love is broken, far more than one life is lost; the death of the child propagates the death of the parent regardless of the age of the child.

I could not have said it better.  If you have lost a child, regardless of your child’s age, and need answers, as Jacksonville Florida wrongful death and personal injury lawyers, we are to help you find the answers.

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