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Florida Court Discusses When a Surviving Spouse’s Status Is Established in Recent Wrongful Death Opinion

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Florida wrongful death case requiring the court to determine, among other things, if the plaintiff qualified as a “surviving spouse.” Ultimately, the court concluded that, although the plaintiff was not married to the accident victim at the time of his injury, the relevant inquiry was whether they were married at the time of death.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving with her fiancé when a car pulled out in front of them. The plaintiff’s fiancé swerved to avoid a collision, but in so doing lost control of the vehicle. The car rolled once or twice before coming to a rest in a roadside ditch.

The plaintiff was not injured in the accident. However, her fiancé was immediately rendered a quadriplegic. Her fiancé filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, as well as the pizza-delivery chain for which he was working at the time of the accident. A few months later, the plaintiff and her fiancé were married. Before the plaintiff’s fiancé’s case concluded, he died due to injuries related to those that he sustained in the accident.

After her husband died, the woman was substituted as the plaintiff, and the case became a wrongful death lawsuit. The defendants, however, argued that the plaintiff was not a surviving spouse as defined by Florida’s wrongful death statute because she was not married to her husband at the time he sustained the injuries that eventually led to his death.

Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute

Under Florida Statutes § 768.21, a Florida wrongful death case must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate for the benefit of a qualifying survivor. This includes a surviving spouse. The statute, however, does not explain when the status as a survivor is determined.

The Court’s Decision

The court concluded that the status of a surviving spouse is determined at the time of death, rather than the time of injury. The court explained that this is consistent with the general theory that a wrongful death lawsuit accrues at the time of death, rather than when the injuries leading to the death occurred.

Thus, in this case, although the plaintiff was only engaged to be married when her husband’s injuries occurred, since she was married at the time he died, she was properly considered a surviving spouse.

Have You Been Injured in a Florida Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a South Florida car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Florida wrongful death lawyers at the South Florida law firm of Cecere Santana have extensive experience representing victims in a wide range of cases, including car and truck accidents. To learn more, call 800-753-5529 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our services unless we are able to help you recover compensation for your injuries or loss.

See Additional Blog Posts:

South Florida Accident Involving Dump Truck Claims Two Lives, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, May 3, 2018.

Hit-and-Run Driver Arrested Two Years After Fatal Accident?, South Florida Injury Attorneys Blog, published April 19, 2018.