Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between the Appellee, the plaintiff who is a personal representative of the decedent’s estate, and the Appellants, Cleveland Clinic Florida Health System (Cleveland Clinic). The plaintiff sued Cleveland Clinic for wrongful death after the decedent was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room, and healthcare providers performed an intubation action that caused fatal brain injuries. The trial court made a non-final order granting the appellee’s motion to amend a wrongful death medical malpractice complaint to assert a claim for punitive damages.

The decedent was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room. When his condition deteriorated, healthcare providers performed an intubation action that caused fatal brain injuries. To support their claims, the appellee relied on comments purportedly made by the hospital’s chief medical officer following the decedent’s death and arguments related to the appellants’ general failure to follow current policy procedures, make changes to their policies, and use the incident as a teaching opportunity for its interns, residents, and fellows. At trial, the court ruled that proffered evidence showed the doctors and other health care providers were grossly negligent by, contrary to the emergency room physician’s recommendation, placing the decedent on a floor level with fewer observation checks, failing to attend to the decedent during the various emergency calls, and beginning intubation without proper supervision, causing the delayed intubation that led to the decedent’s death. To support the punitive damages claim against the hospital, the trial court found a jury could conclude that the hospital’s response to the incident reflects its “condonement and ratification of the provider’s gross negligence.”

On appeal, the Cleveland Clinic argues that the trial court erred in ruling that the plaintiff made a “reasonable showing” under section 768.72 to recover punitive damages. The appellate court reverses the lower court decision for two reasons. First, the appeals court found that the proffered evidence at the hearing failed to show that the healthcare providers involved were grossly negligent. Second, neither the complaint nor the proffered evidence demonstrated how the appellants’ actions either before or during the decedent’s treatment ratified or approved the healthcare providers’ alleged negligent conduct. The appellate decision stated that “appellee’s proffered evidence provided no reasonable basis for recovery of punitive damages, which are reserved ‘to express society’s collective outrage.’” Further, the opinion states that even assuming the proffered evidence demonstrated gross negligence by the health care providers, the trial court erred in finding that a jury could reasonably conclude that the appellants ratified or condoned that negligence to subject it to punitive damages. The appeals court points out that the trial court relied on conduct that post-dated the treatment of the decedent and that such actions are not admissible on the issue of punitive damages. Subsequently, the appellate court reversed the lower court order.

In a recent case, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between the Appellants, the plaintiff, and the Appellee, Stetson University. The plaintiff sued Stetson for wrongful death after Nicholas Blakely died from cardiac arrest during a Stetson football team practice. The trial court found that two identical releases signed by Blakely before the 2016 and 2017 seasons in order to play football were sufficiently clear to bar claims brought against Stetson arising from the cardiac death.

Blakely was a student and scholarship football player at Stetson in 2016 and 2017, his freshman and sophomore years of college. On August 28, 2017, he removed himself from an afternoon practice, complaining of dizziness and chest tightness. The assistant athletic trainer took his pulse, gave him water, removed his helmet, and loosened his pads before sending him over to some shade. Approximately forty to forty-five minutes later, Blakely collapsed. Although Stetson staff called 911 and attempted various emergency medical procedures, Blakely died after being transported to the hospital. The record evidence shows that during an April 2017 practice, Blakely had complained of chest tightness and had mentioned to trainers that he experienced chest tightness twice in high school. There is further record evidence that on the morning of August 28, 2017, Blakely informed the head football athletic trainer that he was not feeling well, complaining of a bad cough, chest congestion, and shallow breathing. The trainer believed he had a cold and did not refer him to the student health clinic, instead allowing him to participate in practice that day without restrictions.

On appeal, the plaintiff raised two issues. First, that the language in the release was insufficient to be enforceable as a matter of law, and second that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning the scope of the release and whether Stetson’s alleged tortious conduct fell within that scope. The appellate court decision found merit in the plaintiff’s first argument, subsequently reversing the final judgment entered in favor of Stetson, and thus did not feel the need to address the second issue. The opinion stated that the combined factors surrounding the release, including the language found within, allowed the court to determine that the exculpatory clause was not clear and unambiguous and that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Stetson.

In a recent case, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between Appellants, known as “the School” and Appellee, the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the School for wrongful death after her 13-year-old son committed suicide following the School’s request that he withdraw from the school for selling a cape pen to a classmate. The School filed a motion to dismiss or compel arbitration. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, ruling that an order denying the School’s motion to dismiss or compel arbitration is reversed.

The plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the School violated its policies and procedures as well as a common law duty to assess and provide suicide prevention and crisis support to a disciplined student. The complaint further alleged that the School was negligent for failing to conduct a full investigation and imposing a punishment that had no basis in its policies and procedures. Notably, at least twenty of the plaintiff’s allegations implicated the School’s investigation of the incident and the appropriateness of the School’s disciplinary measures.

The School moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration pursuant to the enrollment contract that the plaintiff signed when the child was admitted to the school. The enrollment contract provides that “in the event of a disagreement with [the school], or if I have a legal claim against [the school], I agree to address any such disagreement or claim through the process of conflict resolution, including Christian mediation and binding arbitration as outlined in the Parent/Student Handbook.” Additionally, the handbook contained a section prohibiting vape pens and provided that possession or use of a vape pen will result in the termination of enrollment. Ultimately, the trial court denied the School’s motion, concluding that the plaintiff’s son’s death did not arise out of her child’s enrollment at the school.

When negligent or reckless driving is at play, the consequences can be severe, as is evident from a recent fatal collision that took place near Miami. A popular news site recently published information on the accident, revealing details about the driver as well as the victims of the devastating crash.

According to the article, a Florida driver was driving the wrong way on an expressway around 4:30am one recent Saturday. His Nissan Infiniti was going eastbound in the westbound lane, and he encountered a Honda sedan going the correct way on the road. Neither the Infiniti nor the sedan had an opportunity to swerve, and the cars crashed into each other head-on. There were four women and one man inside the sedan, and all five of them were killed upon impact. The driver of the Infiniti was taken to the hospital, where he is still being treated for his injuries.

Investigations revealed that the driver has not possessed a valid driver’s license for eight years, since he was arrested in 2014 for speeding. According to one report, the driver had been arrested for driving 109 miles per hour, which is significantly above any speed limit on Florida’s expressways. The driver’s license had not been reinstated; thus, he was operating his vehicle illegally when he crashed into the five victims. It is unclear whether alcohol or drugs were involved in the accident, and at the moment, no foul play is suspected.

Dealing with the preventable death of a loved one is one of life’s most challenging burdens. Under Florida’s wrongful death statute, individuals or entities who acted negligently or recklessly in causing another’s death may be liable for the damages they caused. The state’s statute allows the deceased person’s survivors a mechanism to secure compensation for the death of their family members. However, these cases require a comprehensive understanding of the state’s complex evidentiary and procedural laws. An experienced Florida wrongful death attorney can represent family members in their wrongful death claims.

A recent Florida wrongful death appeal highlights the onerous burdens that many plaintiffs encounter when pursuing these cases. The Third District Court of Appeal issued an opinion addressing the dismissal of a wrongful death complaint involving an uninsured motorist. According to the record, the uninsured motorist collided with another motorist, rendering that motorist permanently disabled. After several years of litigation, the motorist died by suicide.

As the personal representative of the motorist’s estate, the motorist’s brother brought a wrongful death lawsuit against some of the motorist’s former attorneys. According to the complaint, the brother alleged that the attorneys’ negligence and legal malpractice were the proximate cause of his brother’s death. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the attorneys’ failure to render reasonable care and professional skill prevented him from having the ability to pay for treatment and medication and caused him to experience pain and suffering that ultimately led to his suicide.

Water sports and other outdoor recreational activities play a significant role in Florida’s economy and help make our state desirable for tourists and locals alike. Many water sports, especially the motorized type, carry risks inherent to the sport itself. Consumers seeking to participate in a sporting activity facilitated by a private company are usually required to agree to a liability waiver to disclaim the company from legal liability in the event a customer is injured or killed while participating in the activity. An Illinois woman recently died in an accident that occurred on a parasailing excursion that was organized by a Florida company.

According to the facts discussed in a local news report covering the tragedy, the woman and her two sons decided to go parasailing on Memorial Day near Pigeon Key with the company Lighthouse Parasail Inc., based out of Marathon, FL. Parasailing is an activity where one or more people are attached to a parachute, which is tethered to a boat. As the boat accelerates, the parachute fills with air, and the parasailers fly above the water, similar to a large kite being flown from a moving boat. While the mother and her two sons were parasailing, winds picked up and resulted in the cable snapping and the parasailers flying away from the boat without guidance.

Shortly after the parasailers broke free from the boat, the winds pushed them toward the Old Seven Mile Bridge, eventually smashing the three parasailers into a wall portion of the bridge. Bystanders arrived to render aid and free the parasailers from the chute and bridge cables. The mother was pronounced dead at the scene, with the two boys each suffered moderate injuries. While the crash is still under investigation, preliminary reports blame the unexpected weather.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death for teenagers. Further, the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) reports that teen-related accidents dramatically increase between the “100 Deadliest Days”, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Approximately seven teenagers die because of motor vehicle crashes every day. These harrowing statistics highlight the importance of equipping teenagers with the skills to operate their vehicles safely.

The CDC reports that the risk of motor vehicle accidents is highest among teens between 16 and 19 years old. This age group is three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. Data indicates that the accident death rate for male drivers is over two times higher than the fatality rate for similarly aged female motorists. Further, the presence of teenage passengers increases the likelihood of an accident.

Naturally, inexperience is one of the main reasons teenagers are more likely to be involved in a fatal Florida car accident. However, other factors that put teenagers at risk include nighttime and weekend driving, lack of seatbelt use, distracted driving, impairment, and speeding. For instance, national news reports indicated that the Sheriff’s Office charged a 17-year-old driver with vehicular homicide for driving 151 mph in a crash that took the lives of six people. The driver posted videos of himself and asked viewers to guess his speed for a prize. During his escapade, he slammed his BMW into an SUV carrying six people leaving their jobs at a local farm. Further, law enforcement believes the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the accident.

Florida car accidents that occur on interstates and other high-speed roads are especially dangerous, as many drivers fail to realize how speed factors into the likelihood for an accident to occur, as well as the severity of accidents that do occur. Deadly accidents are tragically common on Florida roads, and many could be prevented if all drivers exercise due care when on the road. A recently published local news report discusses an accident that occurred early on New Year’s Eve, which took the life of a young girl and seriously injured several others.

According to the report, the child and her family were traveling in an SUV on Interstate 75 in southwest Florida when their vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle that was following them closely. After the initial collision, the SUV was crushed into a fuel tanker that was stopped in front of it, resulting in several injuries and the death of the young girl. The news report does not mention if any criminal charges will be filed against anyone involved in the crash, however, the at-fault parties may be criminally and civilly liable for the damages resulting from the crash.

High-speed travel of interstates and highways can be especially dangerous. Two of the most common dangerous and illegal driving behaviors that contribute to highway accidents are traveling with excessive speed and following too closely. Many drivers underestimate the time that it takes to come to a stop when driving at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour. Factoring in possible distractions as well as reaction time, drivers should leave enough distance between themselves and the next car to allow them to safely stop. Generally, it is reasonable and safe for drivers to leave at least two seconds worth of road between themselves and the next vehicle.

Under Florida law, wrongful death refers to situations where a person’s negligence causes the death. After a successful lawsuit, the court may order the at-fault party to pay damages to the decedent’s close relatives. Damages typically include:

  • Compensation for the survivor’s pain and suffering.
  • Loss of companionship.

After the death of a loved one in an accident, many things may feel out of the family’s control. However, something the loved ones of the deceased can control is whether or not to bring a lawsuit if the accident was caused by another person. These lawsuits are called wrongful death lawsuits, which can be brought in any state. However, states, including Florida, have different requirements for who can bring the lawsuit along with what the parties must allege.

Recently, a Florida man was arrested after a multi-vehicle crash led to fatalities. A man from Miami was traveling west on I-80 and rear-ended another vehicle, which was then hit by another car. In total, the crash involved eight vehicles and caused two fatalities—a father and son who were in the car who was initially rear-ended—and five other people were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police indicated the initial driver caused the accident by not paying attention and driving extremely fast; he has been arrested on two counts of motor vehicle homicide.

Many states have specific laws dedicated to bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. In Florida, the Wrongful Death Act governs all wrongful death suits. The purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to shift the losses when a wrongful death occurs from the deceased’s survivors to the wrongdoer of the act. Because of this, the family of a person killed under these circumstances can bring a lawsuit against the responsible party. However, there are strict requirements that must be met in order for a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful. A lawsuit can only be brought if the death of the person is caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another person, and the accident would have entitled the deceased to bring a personal injury lawsuit if they had not died.

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