How Are Lost Earnings Calculated In A Florida Wrongful Death Case?
In a wrongful death case, a survivor can claim a loss of “net accumulations to the estate” and “lost support and services” to the survivor. These damages are generally referred to in section 768.21, Fla. Stat. that covers the damages available in Florida wrongful death cases.
What Are Net Accumulations To An Estate?
In Florida, net accumulations in a wrongful death case are defined as the amount that would have been saved and retained by the decedent’s estate by the end of that person’s life expectancy. To do this analysis, you have to consider the person’s expenses and whether the bank accounts show any net increase from month to month or year to year.
Section 768.18(5), Fla. Stat. defines “net accumulations” as:
…the part of the decedent’s expected net business or salary income, including pension benefits, that the decedent probably would have retained as savings and left as part of her or his estate if the decedent had lived her or his normal life expectancy. “Net business or salary income” is the part of the decedent’s probable gross income after taxes, excluding income from investments continuing beyond death, that remains after deducting the decedent’s personal expenses and support of survivors, excluding contributions in kind.
A jury may consider the decedent’s age, skillsets, overall health, lifetime work earnings, and general likelihood to save when making an award for net accumulations in a wrongful death case. Spouses and lineal descendants of a decedent can claim a loss of net accumulations in Florida. When the decedent is a minor child (defined as age 25 or under), the parents can claim net accumulations to the estate of the child.
What Is Not Included In Net Accumulations?
It is important to mention that income from rental properties or interest on investments is not included as net accumulations under Florida law. Further, people who are retired and are spending down their savings or for people who lived paycheck to paycheck before they died, there is unfortunately not a claim for a loss of net accumulations to the estate.
While employment benefits such as health insurance, disability insurance, 401(k)’s, and other fringe benefits offered by employers are considered for purposes of personal injury cases, the only damage allowed as a “net accumulation” under the wrongful death act in Florida is the value of a pension benefit.
The loss of health insurance, disability insurance, or other benefits would likely qualify as a loss of “support” which is discussed below. More particularly, when these fringe benefits of a decedent are no longer available because of the death, then there is a clearly identifiable replacement cost that is provable by the survivor.
Loss Of Support And Services
Those damages described above are completely separate and distinct from a loss of support and services, which are can be awarded to each respective survivor based on money, or things in like kind of value, that were regularly given from the decedent to the survivor during their lifetime. The scope of a loss of support and services can be very broad.
Section 768.18, Fla. Stat. simply defines “support” as “contributions in kind as well as money.” Meanwhile, “services” are defined as:
tasks, usually of a household nature, regularly performed by the decedent that will be a necessary expense to the survivors of the decedent. These services may vary according to the identity of the decedent and survivor and shall be determined under the particular facts of each case.
As discussed above, a loss of support is not just the loss of money. Therefore, when a person who is providing for a family (regardless of age) and that person was providing benefits such as health insurance through an employer, the value of those benefits may fairly be considered “support” under the wrongful death statute.
On the other hand, “services” are things the decedent used to do and the survivors are typically unable to do for themselves. For example, with many married couples the husband is responsible for more physical jobs such as tree trimming and yardwork. In a wrongful death action, the surviving spouse (wife) could get estimates for periodic tree trimming on the marital home and regular yardwork and claim those as damages that would not have existed but for the death.
Talk To A Lakeland Wrongful Death Attorney For Help With Your Case
If you lost a loved one due to a personal injury or medical malpractice in Florida, you should contact a Lakeland wrongful death attorney for help. The damages available under the law vary from person to person and depending on the relationships and ages of the survivors. Contact us today to schedule your free case review. We assist those who have lost a loved one in Polk County including Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, and Haines City, Florida.