A jury has awarded $700 million to the parents of a Florida man who died after being beaten unconscious and then set on fire while still alive.
The jury reached its verdict earlier this month in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of the deceased, who was killed in June 2012 in Highlands County.
The verdict was against the two men who were convicted of their son’s murder in 2015.
Investigators said the men were at a party when one of the men punched the victim. The other man then beat the victim unconscious. The men set him on fire hours later when the victim was unconscious but still alive.
Collecting the award might be difficult as both men are serving two life sentences each on kidnapping and murder convictions.
While a typical wrongful death claim arises from negligence, or someone else’s failure to exercise appropriate care in a specific situation, it is possible for a claim to arise from an intentional act, such as murder. While the state of Florida will bring criminal charges against a person accused of murder for breaking the law, the victim’s family or a representative of the victim’s estate can file civil charges for wrongful death.
Under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, an individual may bring a wrongful death claim if they are related to the deceased as a:
- dependent blood relatives
- children born outside of wedlock of the mother or father
In addition, Florida law mandates when wrongful death lawsuits must be filed by, which is called the statute of limitations. That time in Florida is two years from the date of death. In certain very specific cases, this time can be postponed. After the statute of limitations has expired, a suit can no longer be filed and all legal rights with respect to the filing of a wrongful death suit are extinguished.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family of the victim, also known as the plaintiff, must prove that the defendant, the person accused of being responsible for the death in the lawsuit, actually caused the death in question through negligence or an intentional act. In this specific case, murder is the intentional act. Murder is defined as the intentional killing of another human being, so it does satisfy the legal definition of an “intentional tort.” The burden of proof for establishing responsibility for a wrongful death is much lower than what is required for proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a murder charge. So it is safe to assume that if a prosecutor successfuly convicts a person of murder, then the plaintiff in a subsequent wrongful death claim will have little to no trouble establishing the burden of proof in a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
The types of losses for which financial compensation is typically sought in a wrongful death lawsuit arising from a murder include loss of companionship, loss of income or support, and loss of consortium. Other types of losses for which compensation is awarded in a wrongful death case stemming from a murder include medical bills as well as funeral and burial expenses. A family member may also be able to obtain monetary compensation for mental anguish and emotional distress from the murder of a family member.
However, if a person is headed to prison, or already behind bars, they may not have the financial means to be able to pay the money owed that results from a wrongful death lawsuit. So, unless they have enough assets before entering prison, a wrongful death suit may not result in the financial compensation you deserve. When it comes to a wrongful death suit after such a heinous act as murder, most families are not as concerned with the money aspect of the ruling, but rather the message it sends to the resposible party (parties).
Ultimately, if you or a loved one have any questions or concerns regarding your ability to take legal action after the death of a loved one arises, the first thing you should do is speak to a reliable wrongful death attorney. Our Florida Wrongful Death Attorneys at Whittel & Melton are here to discuss all of your legal options with you regarding wrongful death suits, the possibility of a criminal conviction, and the odds of success when filing a wrongful death claim. We know that no amount of money can bring your loved one back to you, but it can help to achieve a sense of justice on their behalf.