When crimes are committed, there is often a way for the victim and his or her family to recover civil damages for the harm. In a tragic case, the Second District had to assess what happens when one family member killed another and the surviving family member tried to seek damages for the harm that resulted from the crime.
In Cosman v. Rodriguez, a husband killed a wife after 50 years of marriage. The husband was subsequently convicted of murder. The wife’s surviving adult daughter filed a wrongful death claim as the decedent’s personal representative of her mother’s estate and later amended the suit to add individual claims.
The trial court ruled that the daughter was ineligible to recover compensation because she was an adult and her father was a surviving spouse. Under Florida’s wrongful death statute, minor children can only recover wrongful death damages if there is no surviving spouse. In this case, there was a surviving spouse. Thus, the daughter was barred from recovering because her father was still alive.
The appellate court disagreed with the lower court, noting that Florida’s wrongful death statute permits an adult child to recover when there is no surviving spouse. Adult children may be able to seek loss of companionship, mental pain and suffering, and other damages. The court went on to highlight that the lower court failed to apply a relevant statute in Florida’s probate code. Under that statute, when one spouse kills another, the killer is considered to have predeceased the victim, which means the killer is not entitled to benefits under Florida law. This principle is rooted in the idea that a criminal cannot benefit from his or her crime. As such, the daughter had the right to pursue the wrongful death lawsuit as if her mother had no surviving spouse.
The appellate court also noted that the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing the plaintiff to conduct a voir dire questionnaire of the husband’s son and by allowing the husband’s son to testify. The son had a disability and was not competent to testify. The son’s testimony was not understandable and was irrelevant to the issues at trial. The testimony was used simply to elicit sympathy for the husband because the defense argued that an award of punitive damages for the plaintiff would only hurt the son by making the husband unable to support his child. This was an improper argument because there was no evidence that the husband provided any type of support to the disabled son in the first place.
Wrongful death cases can be extremely difficult for surviving relatives of the victim. Robert Dixon is a dedicated Miami wrongful death lawyer who understands how to handle complex accident cases. We have helped numerous South Florida clients understand their legal rights and options. We can evaluate the merits of your case and give you a realistic assessment. You can expect the utmost compassion and care from our entire team. Do not hesitate to contact us online or call us today at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) for a free, confidential consultation.
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