A parent may be entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering if his or her “minor” child is killed because of someone’s negligence.
This is a sad topic. However, I will be talking about it here. (On another note, I’ve written about settlements for a child whose parent is killed in an accident.)
Not too long ago, people were searching to see what the payout would be after an alligator attacked and killed a boy at a Disney hotel.
“Minor Child” Is a Child Under the Age of 25
This article talks about settlements for parents if their “minor child” is killed in an accident caused by someone else. Florida wrongful death law says that a “minor child” is a child under 25 years old.
A parent is entitled to compensation for pain and suffering if his or her minor child is killed from someone’s negligence. (I wrote a separate article about cases if a parent’s adult child is killed.)
What Types of Accidents Does This Wrongful Death Law Apply to?
A parent may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering if his/her minor child is killed. Accidents may include a child who is killed when he or she is hit while on a:
Other incidents could include a child who is killed from:
- Being Hit by a car while a pedestrian
- An accident on someone’s premises
- Being Electrocuted
- Getting murdered, shot or stabbed in a parking lot, mall, hotel or somewhere else
- A doctor or hospital’s mistake (medical malpractice) or error
- Pharmacy malpractice
The cases below aren’t mine unless I specifically say that they are.
I’ll focus on the amounts that were awarded for pain and suffering for a parent when a “minor child” is killed in an accident.
In a separate article, you can see some of my wrongful death settlements in Florida.
Below, I concentrate on talking about the amount of pain and suffering that was awarded. Why?
Because pain and suffering is the most difficult factor to calculate in a wrongful death case. A parent’s degree of pain and suffering is just one of the factors that determines the caes value if a minor child is killed due to someone’s negligence.
What is The Average Verdict for the Death of a Child?
In this article, I examine more than 15 wrongful death verdicts. These lawsuits were for the death of a “minor child”.
I believe that this is the most detailed article on the entire internet about settlements for a child’s death.
From these cases, the average award for each parent’s pain and suffering was $4.1 million.
Again, this $4.1 million amount is the average that was awarded for each parent.
Thus, all things equal, if both parents are alive, the total pain and suffering award is usually almost twice is high.
However, there is a huge issue that often arises in cases where a child is killed.
What is the issue?
There often isn’t enough insurance to pay for the fair value of the case.
Due to limited insurance, the average settlement for a child’s wrongful death is way under $4.1 million.
Minor Child’s Estate Can Also Recover Money Parent Would’ve Saved
In a wrongful death case, the estate is also entitled recover net accumulations, lost earnings from the date of injury to death. Additionally, the estate get compensation for medical and funeral expenses.
Just because a jury awards a large verdict for the mental pain and suffering for the death of a minor child, there is no guarantee that the parent(s) will be able to collect the money.
This for 3 reasons:
- The defendant (person who caused the minor’s death) may not have money to pay the verdict/judgment.
- The trial court can reduce the verdict.
- The case can be appealed by the Defendant and the appeals court can reduce the verdict/judgment. (This may be true for many of the verdicts that you see listed below.)
That being said, let’s first take a look at what appeals courts have said about whether certain jury verdicts for mental pain and suffering are excessive.
Appeals Court Can Reduce a High Pain and Suffering Award
If a jury verdict for mental pain and suffering is too high, an appeals court may reduce the award.
There are many huge verdicts on the internet. Sometimes those cases are settled after the jury verdict for less money than the jury verdict award.
This is because both sides know that an appeals court may reduce the amount awarded for mental pain and suffering.
As you’ll see in a moment, the death of a minor child has resulted in some very large verdicts and settlements.
When Will There Likely Be at Least $1 Million in Insurance To Pay for a “Minor Child’s” Death?
There are a few situations where there will likely be at least $1 million in insurance to pay for a minor child’s death.
Some examples include when a minor child is killed by someone who:
- Is making a delivery for Ubereats, Postmates, Amazon Flex, Grubhub, Doordash
- Rented a car and purchased BIL insurance
- Is driving a truck or bus for a big company like Walmart, Target, Disney or Publix
- Rented a car from a car sharing service like Turo and selected the premium plan
- Rented a car from a Hyrecar (rideshare service).
Additionally, there will likely be a $1 million of insurance if a minor child is killed:
- By Uber or Lyft driver’s negligence if that driver was engaged in a ride
However, there is likely an insurance exclusion if the minor child was a passenger in the Ubereats or Postmates car. In other words, Ubereats or Postmates’ insurance won’t cover the minor child’s death (or injury) if the child was a passenger of the same car as the delivery driver.
However, even if there is $1 million in available coverage, the child’s parent still has to show that someone else’s negligence caused the minor child’s death.
If a large truck (10,000 pounds or more) is used in interstate commerce, it is required to have minimum limits of $750,000.
When Will There Be $250K in Insurance Coverage to Pay for the Death of a Child?
If a child is a passenger of a Lyft car, his parents are entitled to up to $250,000 in uninsured motorist coverage if the other vehicle was at fault. I’m referring to Lyft’s uninsured motorist insurance. On September 21, 2018, Lyft recently lowered its uninsured motorist insurance (in Florida) to $250,000.
Will the parents get a bigger settlement if the driver who caused the child’s death was driving for Uber, Lyft or a delivery service (like those above) as opposed to someone driving their own car for pleasure who is insured with GEICO or USAA?
All things equal, the settlement will be much bigger. (Therefore, the parents should hire an Uber accident lawyer). This assumes that the driver was engaged in a ride, or making an active delivery.
Insurance companies like GEICO, USAA and State Farm tend to sell smaller BIL insurance policies.
Let’s look at an incident where a “minor child” was killed that made national news.
Jury Awards Each Parent $2.5 Million for 17 Year Old Daughter’s Death (Hit By RV)
This isn’t my case. In 2018, a elderly man (Walter Roney) was driving his recreational vehicle (RV) down the wrong side of the highway in Florida.
He struck and killed two passengers of an oncoming car. The passengers of the car were 17-year-old Britney Poindexter, and 18 year-old Santia Feketa.
Roney also died in the accident.
Yvonee Poindexter was appointed as personal representative (PR) of Poindexter’s estate. She hired a lawyer to represent her as PR.
Her attorney filed a lawsuit against Roney’s estate. The lawsuit claimed that Roney was driving a recreational vehicle, in the dark, with broken exterior and interior lighting, on the wrong-side of State Road 70.
She sought compensation for her and her husband’s pain and suffering, and for funeral expenses. She also sued Roney’s trust.
Interestingly, she also sued the RV’s passenger. She claimed that the passenger (Ms. Bruns) was acting as Mr. Roney’s “visual spotter” and caregiver while on this trip. She alleged that Mr. Roney appointed Ms. Bruns as his patient advocate to make personal care decisions for him.
Poindexter claimed the Roney and Bruns were engaged in a joint enterprise, and Ms. Bruns could have taken action that prevented the accident.
In Florida, the plaintiff rarely sues the careless driver’s passenger.
Because as a general matter, a passenger cannot be held liable for a driver’s actions. Halenda v. Habitat for Human. Int’l, Inc., 125 F. Supp. 2d 1361, 1365 (S.D. Fla. 2000). (The rule is that the negligence of a driver of an automobile is not in general imputable to a passenger who has no authority or control over the car or the driver.”) (quoting Bessett v. Hackett, 66 So. 2d 694, 698
However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Florida law recognizes that certain circumstances can give rise to a duty on the part of a mere passenger to make reasonable attempts “through suggestion, warning, protest or other means suitable to the occasion, to control the conduct of the driver.”
The full value of a wrongful death case is big. If you haven’t noticed this yet, you will after reading this article. I give several examples of huge verdicts.
Thus, in this case, the personal representative’s attorney was likely looking for as much insurance coverage as possible.
On July, 27, 2019, the judge let Poindexter’s lawsuit against the careless driver’s passenger continue forward. When the judge lets the lawsuit move forward, the passenger’s insurer company may realize that it’s time to pony up some money. During the wrongful death lawsuit, on February 18, 2019, Poindexter settled with the careless driver’s passenger (Ms. Bruns). I think that Bruns’ insurance policy paid out entire policy limits of $1 million to the parents of both girls.
Poindexter proceeded to trial against the Roney’s estate. On April 11, 2019, a jury awarded each parent $2.5 million for the death of Britney Poindexter. The case number is 2:18-cv-14155-RLR.
Judge Reduces Award to $4.1 Million for Each Parent of 20 Year Old Female (Hit and Killed by Truck)
This is not my case. A man driving a garbage truck hit Abigail was she was on her bike in Gainesville, Florida. The truck ran over her body. Paramedics took her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead from traumatic injuries.
The truck company (WCA of Florida) blamed the bike rider for causing the accident. New Hampshire Insurance Company insured WCA with a $5 million dollar liability policy, and a $15 million umbrella. AIG is the parent company for New Hampshire Insurance Company.
WCA also blamed the bicyclist for being on cocaine or alcohol at the time of the accident.
Since Abigail was on a bike when the truck hit her, her parents were entitled to Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. This pursuant to Florida law.
Specifically, her parents were entitled to get a $5,000 PIP death benefit check from the PIP insurance company. Additionally, PIP insurance pays up to $10,000 of medical bills. Here, the main bill was the ambulance bill, which is usually somewhere around $1,000 (or less).
If Abigail owned a car at the time of her death, the insurance from that car would pay the PIP benefit. Also, since she was a college student, her parents PIP would pay benefits if Abigail did not own a car. This is because a college student is also considered a resident relative of her parents’ home. If neither Abigail or her parents owned a car at the time of death, then should could get PIP benefits from the garbage truck.
PIP benefits are payable regardless of fault. But the PIP benefits were not the bigger source of compensation in this case. In a wrongful death case of a minor, the parents’ pain and suffering claim is worth many multiples of the PIP benefits.
Here, you’ll see in a moment that the parents’ pain and suffering claim was worth about 546 times the available ($15,000) PIP benefit.
Abigail’s Parents Offered to Settle for $8 Million
On July 20, 2018, the personal representative of Abigail’s estate offered to settle with WCA for $8 million. WCA did not accept this offer.
However, the jury found that the bike rider was not on drugs or alcohol when the crash happened. A Gainesville jury awarded $12.5 million to each parent for the death of their 20 year old daughter (Abigail). The $12.5 million was for each parent’s pain and suffering. The total verdict was for $25 Million.
On January 29, 2019, the trial judge agreed with the garbage truck company that the pain and suffering award should be lowered. The judge lowered the award of pain and suffering to $4.1 Million to each parent. Thus, the combined pain and suffering award was $8.2 Million.
This amount ($8.2 Million) then gets reduced by 20%, which is the percentage of fault of the bike rider (decedent). Here, the waste management company had more than enough insurance ($20 million) to pay the claim. In most wrongful death cases, the at fault party does not have enough insurance to pay for the value of the case.
In most car accidents where there is a fatality, the driver that causes the accident was not working at the time. Thus, the parents are often limit to the at fault driver’s insurance policy. Most policies have between $0 and $100,000 in bodily injury liability coverage.
Of course, you can then look to see if there is uninsured motorist coverage for the decedent. However, most car owners in Florida do not have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.
It is not required by law, and it costs extra. And with Florida ranking No. 5 on a list of states whose residents are most likely to live paycheck to paycheck, it’s no surprise that most car owners cannot afford UM coverage.
Shortly after the judge reduced the $25 million verdict, the parties settled the case for an undisclosed sum. If Abigail or her parents had uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, and the garbage truck would have been uninsured or underinsured, the UM insurance company would have paid Abigail’s parents.
This case involved a bike rider. However, the verdict amount may have been similar it it was a pedestrian hit by a car.
Learn more about this $25 million verdict.
Parents of Teenager Killed in FIU Bridge Collapse Likely Limited to Under $10 Million for Pain and Suffering
Alexa Duran, an 18-year-old, was killed in the FIU Bridge Collapse in Miami, Florida. She was survived by her father and her mother. I can’t imagine begin to imagine the pain that her parents have experienced.
Alexa was with her friend Richard Humble, who suffered a neck injury but was able to walk away.
As you can imagine, Richard’s personal injury claim is worth much less than the wrongful death lawsuit brought by Alexas’ parents. This is because Richard’s pain and suffering claim is much smaller.
The upper range of the full value for each of Alexa’s parents’ pain and suffering claim is likely under $5 million.
Under Florida’s wrongful death law, Alexa’s siblings (if any) aren’t entitled to any money for pain and suffering. This is because her siblings did not witness the accident in person. If the sibling witnessed her accident (and death) in person, they might also be able to have a claim for pain and suffering.
What is my basis for saying that each parent’s claim for pain and suffering is likely worth below $5 million?
We look at what the appeals court – that would decide this bridge collapse case – has said in past cases. In this case, the Miami-Dade County appeals court is the proper court.
As you’ll see from the verdicts below, Miami-Dade County’s appeals court thinks that $5 million per parent is the upper limit for pain and suffering for a minor child’s death.
In most cases, punitive damages generally can’t be bigger than 3 times the verdict for compensatory damages. In the bridge collapse case, the compensatory damages would primarily be pain and suffering.
$12.5 Million Verdict for Mom’s Pain and Suffering After Her 15 Year Old Son Was Electrocuted
This is not my case. On December 20, 2017, a Lee County jury awarded Tricia Dominguez $12.5 million dollars for pain and suffering as a result of her 15-year-old son’s death.
Her son, Justin Dominguez, was climbing a bamboo tree in a lot near his home. The tree made contact with a FPL power line. Justin was electrocuted.
Tricia claimed that FPL failed to cut the bamboo tree even though FPL received requests to do so.
The jury found Justin to be 30% at fault for his death. They found FPL 70% at fault for his death.
Since he was 30% at fault for his death, his mom gets 70% of the verdict, which is $8.75 million.
However, FPL will likely ask the court to lower the $12.5 million award for pain and suffering. FPL will likely claim that $12.5 million is too much for one parent to be awarded for pain and suffering.
The jury also awarded Tricia $15 million dollars in punitive damages.
After the trial, FPL asked the judge to lower the verdict. On May 21, 2018, the trial court refused to lower the verdict.
Why did the trial judge refuse to lower the pain and suffering award?
The trial judge said that the evidence of loss was compelling and came from multiple generations of Dominguez’ family.
The evidence of loss was not substantially reduced when FPL took the testimony of the witnesses at trial. If there was passion it was caused by the FPL’s tactics and closing argument, not any improper action by Tricia or unexplained actions by the jury.
Also, the numbers make sense. Tricia’s attorney asked for $15 million.
The jury gave Tricia $12.5 Million for pain and suffering. Additionally, they found Justin 30% at fault. This results in an award of $8.75 million. (100%-30%) x $12.5 million = $8.75 million.
This is somewhat more than 50% of what Tricia’s attorney requested from the jury. From the court’s perspective, the jury did not look inflamed nor act out in any way during the trial. The foreperson had an accounting background.
Tricia’s lawyer cited past cases where large pain and suffering awards for the parents of minor child were approved. The judge relied on the case of FPL v. Goldberg, 856 So.2d 1011 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2002). I’ll talk about that case further below.
Why did the trial judge refuse to lower the Punitive Damages Award?
Here, the FPL’s witness testified that FPL was a “billion dollar company.” Additionally, there was evidence that FPL’s net worth was over $16 Billion.
Tricia requested punitive damages of three times the compensatory award or about $37 million. The jury awarded $15 million for punitive damages. Given the evidence admitted and trial tactics of FPL, the trial judge agreed with the punitive damages award.
Also, punitive damages aren’t reduced by the decedent’s percentage of fault.
Appeals Court Approved the $12.5 Million in Pain and Suffering Award
FPL appealed the verdict. (The appeal case number is 2D18-2363.) On October 25, 2019 the appeals court let the $12.5 million noneconomic (pain and suffering) damages award stand. In other words, they approved it.
However, the appeals court took away the $15 million punitive damages award. They did this because they said that Dominguez did not show punishable conduct by a managing agent of FPL. The appeals court said that Dominguez did not demonstrate a willful and malicious action on the part of Barry Grubb or FPL that is equivalent to criminal manslaughter. Thus, they said that punitive damages should not have been awarded.
The case is Tricia Dominguez, as personal representative of the Estate of Justin Dominguez vs. Florida Power and Light Company (13-CA-3351).
Mother and Father Awarded $1.25 Million for 22-Year-Old Child’s Death
This is not my case. Devon Richbell was 22 years old. This accident occurred a two-lane road. It resulted in the tragic death of the Gwen and Alan’s daughter, Devon.
Their daughter, and a second vehicle following her, attempted to pass two tractor-trailers. Ernst Toussaint was driving the second vehicle.
They began their attempt in a passing zone, but ended their attempt in a no-passing zone. When they cut back in front of the two tractor-trailers, they encountered a vehicle stopped to make a left turn.
Devon was able to stop. However, the vehicle following her rear-ended her car. This forced Devon into oncoming traffic where another truck traveling in the opposite direction collided with her vehicle.
Devon died from the accident. Her parents sued the driver and owner of the vehicle that rear-ended their daughter’s vehicle. They also sued the driver and owner of the truck that ultimately collided with her. Additionally, they sued the owner of the trailer attached to his truck.
The case went to trial in Martin County, Florida.
On June 24, 2014, a jury found Ernst 60% at fault. They found Devon 40% at fault.
Jury Awards Each Parent $600K for Pain and Suffering (Car Accident)
The jury awarded Devon’s mother $200,000 for past pain and suffering as a result of her death. They also awarded her mom $25,000 for her loss of Devon’s support and services. The jury awarded Devon’s mother $400,000 for her future pain and suffering as a result of her death.
The jury awarded her dad the same amounts. Thus, the total combined pain and suffering award was for $1.2 million.
Since Ernst was only 60% at fault, he only owes Devon’s parents for 60% of the verdict. Ernst was driving someone else’s car. The owner of the car is liable only up to $130,000.
Because Florida’s dangerous instrumentality law caps the car owner’s liability. § 324.021(9)(b)(3).
After the verdict, Devon’s parents asked the judge court to award more money for pain and suffering. The judge refused However, Devon’s parents appealed the verdict. On June 21, 2017, the appeals court agreed with the jury verdict.
News Stations Have Interviewed Me About Wrongful Death Cases (“Minor Child” Killed)
On August 14, 2018, NBC6 interviewed me about the FIU bridge collapse lawsuit in Miami.
The reporter was interested in the fact that the engineer company’s insurer is trying to get out of paying the victims’ families. FIGG was the bridge engineer.
Travelers insures FIGG. Travelers has asked a federal judge to declare that it doesn’t have to cover FIGG for several of the wrongful death lawsuits.
Did Disney Pay the Parent’s Of the Boy Who Was Killed by the Alligator?
Watch the video below to see why I think Disney may have paid a lot of money to settle the parents’ claim for their son who was killed by an alligator.
Orange County probate records show that on July 26, 2016, a probate estate was set up for an estate of a decedent (person who died). The decedent’s initials were “LTG”. Those initials are the same as the boy who was killed (Lane Thomas Graves) by the alligator on Disney’s property.
Also, the name of his parents is the same as Lane Graves’ parents. Here is a screenshot:
This claim was one of the few wrongful death cases that likely settled quickly for the actual claim’s value. Disney seemed to want this incident out of the news.
It’s not everyday that Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger calls a child’s family and publicly offered condolences. Additionally, George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World, flew back to Florida from Shanghai, China.
My educated guess is that Disney paid about $10 million to settle the parents’ wrongful death claim.
However, court records seem to indicate that there was an additional settlement that I’ve never heard talked about.
Individuals with the boys’ parents’ names were appointed as guardian of the property for someone who had the same initials (EG) as Lane Graves’ sister, Ella.
The court record showed that the minor’s attorney asked the court to approve the settlement of the minor. This leads to believe that Disney also paid money to settle the sisters’ claim for emotional distress.
The Omaha Herald reported that the boys’ sister, Emma, was in a playpen 20 to 30 yards from the shoreline. Thus, since she was at the scene of the horrific incident, she would have a claim for her emotional distress.
My educated guess is that Disney may have paid $4.5 million or so to settle the sister’s claim.
How do I arrive at this amount?
Because a jury recently awarded a boy $4.5 million for emotional distress from being in his mom’s car when she was killed. (This was in addition to his pain and suffering claim for his mom’s death.) The trial court refused to reduce that verdict. And that case didn’t have the publicity issues that Disney wanted to avoid in the alligator incident.
$350K Awarded to Each Parent for Death of 30 Year Old in Scooter Accident
$60K Verdict for Parents for the Death of Their 20 Year Old Son Killed (Car Crash)
Persaud v. Cortes, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2017 arose from a November 2008 accident. A drunk driver, Visnu Persaud, crashed into the back of a car that 20 year old Joshua Batista was in.
Joshua was killed in the crash. He was survived by his mom (Barbara), his father (Hector), and his young son.
The jury awarded each of Joshua’s parents $20,000 for past pain and suffering, and $10,000 for future pain and suffering. They also awarded funeral expenses of $5,419.
Jury Awards $1 Million to Each Parent for Death of Minor Child in Car Crash
This is not my case. Lourdes Regalado Falcon (“Mrs. Regalado”) was transporting her 3 minor children when she had a collision with another car. Her daughter, Ismelys Regalado, was killed in the crash. I don’t know how old Ismelys was.
A jury awarded $1 Million to Mrs. Regalado for her past and future pain and suffering and $1 Million to Mr. Regalado (Ismelys’ father) for his past and future pain and suffering.
I assume that the entire award was for Mrs. Regalado was for her pain and suffering from the death of her daughter. Basically, I assume that the award wasn’t for her physical injuries in the accident.
I say this because the:
- Jury awarded her the same amount that they awarded to her husband, who wasn’t in the car.
- Appeals court didn’t mention that she recovered money for medical bills or lost wages.
Mrs. Regalado’s PIP insurance likely paid her a death benefit of $5,000 for the death of Ismelys. The case is Ortiz v. Regalado, 113 So.3d 57 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013).
Court Says $15 Mil for Mom, and $5 Mil for Dad, Is Too Much for 3 Year Olds’ Death (Court OKs $5 Mil Each)
In Bravo v. United States, 532 F.3d 1154, 1162 (11th Cir. 2008), a federal judge found that a doctor had committed medical malpractice. A baby, Kevin Bravo Rodriguez, suffered a horrible brain injury as a result.
Kevin was 3 years old when he died from the injuries.
The case went to trial. The judge awarded $15 Million to Kevin’s mom, and $5 Million to Kevin’s dad for their mental pain and suffering.
The appeals court said that these verdicts were too high.
In 2011, the case went to trial again, and a federal judge awarded $5 Million to each parent. I don’t believe that award was appealed.
The judge also awarded $153,695.21 for funeral and medical expenses due to Kevin’s injury and death.
Jury Awards $250K to Father, and $550K to Mother (Child Killed in Car Accident)
A 19-year-old was killed in a wrong-way car accident. His parents sued for her wrongful death.
On April 21, 2010, the jury awarded $250,000 in pain and suffering damages to the decedent’s father. They awarded $550,000 to his mother.
The case is Boyan v. Marietta, 2010 WL 9445978 (Case No. 07-1120-CAB, 15th Cir., Marion County, Fla.)
Jury Awards $750K To Each Parent for Death of 21-year-old (Killed in Parking Lot)
This isn’t my case. A 21-year-old was killed due to negligent security in restaurant parking lot. The jury awarded $750,000 in pain and suffering to each parent.
The case is Makowski v. B&B Cash Grocery Stores, Inc., et al. 2009 WL 9052521 (Case No. 51-2006Ca-1504ES, 6th Cir., Pasco County, Fla.) (June 24, 2009).
Court OKs $5 Million Verdict for Mom Whose 20 Year Old Is Killed in Crash
In Trevino v. Mobley, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2011, an appeals court approved a $5 Million verdict for noneconomic damages (mental pain and suffering, etc.) to a mother whose 20-year-old daughter was killed in a head-on car accident.
The driver of the Hummer (“truck”) that caused the accident was speeding, driving without its headlights on, and passing another vehicle in a no passing zone.
Rita, the mother, brought the wrongful death claim as the personal representative of the estate of her daughter against the driver and the owner of the Hummer.
$2.5 million was awarded for past pain and suffering from losing her daughter and $2.5 million for her future pain and suffering. This totals $5 million in pain and suffering.
At the time of this verdict, the jury did not decide whether the parents of the at-fault driver were negligent for allowing their son to driver their car.
Under Florida Statute 324.021(9)(b)3, when the owner of a motor vehicle who is a natural person lends a motor vehicle to a permissive user, the owner’s liability is subject to the certain limits.
$5 Million for Each Parent Who Loses 20 Year Old Isn’t Unreasonable
This case shows that if a mother (or father) loses a relatively young (20 or so years old) child in an accident, a verdict of $5,000,000 in pain and suffering is not unreasonable.
The appeals court did not mention the age of the mother of the decedent which I find interesting. Generally speaking, a younger parent of a decedent has a more valuable pain and suffering than an older parent.
This because the jury can factor in the life expectancy of the parent when awarding damages for future pain and suffering.
The longer that the mother will be alive, the greater time period where she will experience pain and suffering for the loss of her child.
Jury Awards $375K to Each Parent of 16-Year-old (Shooting Death)
This isn’t my case. This was a wrongful death case arising out of the shooting death of a 16-year-old following a prank gone bad.
The parents sued in Palm Beach County, Florida. On March 1, 2007, the jury awarded $375,000 in pain and suffering to each of the decedent’s parents.
The wrongful death lawsuit was Drewes v. Levin, 2007 WL 866454 (Case No. 50-2003 CA 012339).
Jury Awards Nothing to Parent’s of Child Hit and Killed by Car
This isn’t my case.
In the sad case (not mine) of Rosenfeld v. Seltzer, 993 So. 2d 557 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2008, two-year-old Veronica Rosenfeld was walking with her mother. They were walking down the sidewalk of their neighborhood.
Her mother stopped briefly to talk with neighbors. Veronica continued down the sidewalk. Mr. Seltzer, was backing out of his driveway and ran over Veronica, causing her death.
The child’s father, as personal representative of the girl’s estate, and on behalf of the parents as survivors of their daughter, sued the driver. In Florida, the survivors may be entitled to recover mental pain and suffering damages for the death of a minor child.
The personal representative sued Mr. Seltzer, claiming that he was negligently driving his car. At trial, each side presented expert witnesses who testified as to whether Mr. Seltzer reasonably drove his car.
The Rosenfelds’ expert testified that Mr. Seltzer could have avoided the accident had he taken certain steps. The expert said that he did not take any of these steps.
The driver’s expert testified that he was backing up reasonably and he was not careless. He looked carefully through his side and rearview mirrors before slowly backing down the driveway.
Veronica would have been visible to Mr. Seltzer for only six-tenths of a second to 1.3 seconds, depending on her speed. She was thirty-four inches tall, while the vehicle’s rear bumper was thirty-seven inches high.
Thus, once she was behind the bumper, Mr. Seltzer could not see her. The driver drafted a jury instruction on a parent’s obligation to supervise his or her child. The jury returned a verdict finding no negligence on the part of Mr. Seltzer.
Therefore, the child’s parents don’t get any money. The case was heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Florida. It is located in West Palm Beach, Florida.
It hears appeals from the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Judicial Circuits, which are composed of Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties. Therefore, I assume that this accident happened somewhere in one of those counties.
Tip: In Florida, “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.” Section 316.130(8), Florida Statutes. However, this law does not apply to two-year-olds because they cannot be found to be negligent.
Child Under 6 Generally Can’t Be Negligent
In Swindell v. Hellkamp, 242 So.2d 708 (Fla. 1970), the Florida supreme court held as a matter of law that a child under the age of six, who ran into the path of an automobile and was injured, could not be contributorily negligent because a child does not have the capacity to exercise “reasonable care” so as to hold the child responsible for his or her own acts.
This applies to a claim of comparative negligence as well. See Lindenfield v. Dorazio, 606 So.2d 1255, 1257-58 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992).
I did not talk about whether the child received PIP benefits. If the child’s parents’ owned a car in Florida, the parents’ auto insurer would have paid one $5,000 death benefit to them. Florida Statute 627.736(1)(a)(6)(c).
Death Benefits are in addition to the medical and disability benefits provided under the insurance policy. The insurer may pay death benefits to the parents directly.
If the parents’ did not own a car, a resident relative’s PIP may have paid the death benefits. While the parents are not required to use the resident relative’s PIP, it is always a good idea.
Miami Appeals Court Says $4 Million for Pain and Suffering to Each Parent of Teenager is Too High
This isn’t my case. The appeals court ordered that a jury verdict of $4 million to each parent of a teenage girl who died for mental pain and suffering must be lowered.
It said that after reviewing the evidence, it was forced to reverse the jury verdict on damages as they are so excessive that they could only have been a product of passion and emotion based on Jose’s emotional testimony rather than the result of the evidence presented.
Therefore, it ordered the trial court to reduce the verdict “to the highest amount which the jury could have properly awarded.” I don’t know the amount that the trial court ultimately reduced the verdict to.
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued its ruling on March 28, 2007.
The 3rd DCA handles appeals for Miami-Dade and Monroe County, Florida. That case was Glabman v. De La Cruz, 954 So.2d 60, 63 (Fla.3d DCA 2007)
Court Says $37 Million in Total for Both Parents of 12 Year Old is Too High; $10 Million is Reasonable in Total
In Goldberg v. Fla. Power & Light Co., 899 So.2d 1105, 1116 (Fla.2005) with the wrongful death action concerning the death of the Goldbergs’ 12-year-old daughter, Jill Goldberg.
FPL cut power to a traffic light which resulted in a motor vehicle collision and the resulting death.
The jury awarded $37 million in total for both parents for their pain and suffering. The appeals court said this was too much. The court said $10 million in total for both parents was reasonable. Thus, it approved $5 million for each parent is reasonable and not excessive.
The Florida Supreme Court approved the reduced verdict of $5 million for each parent.
This was a very emotional case. The parents testified as to their reaction to their daughter’s death. Mrs. Goldberg currently requires medication for depression.
(When a parent needs medication for depression as a result of a child’s death, this typically increases the full value of his/her pain and suffering.)
She hyperventilates if she sees a school bus or a little girl. She has sleeping problems. Additionally, she takes a sedative.
She was never on antidepressants or sleeping medication before the accident. She can barely get up in the morning. Mrs. Goldberg testified that it is now an empty house and that she does not do the activities that she used to do. She used to be active in horticulture, cooking classes, her own herb garden.
After the accident, she saw a psychologist for three months. With her husband, she tried grief counseling with other families which made them feel worse. She has started to read again and tries to work on her orchids, a hobby.
In November she forced herself to go to the grocery store and cried on the way home. She was cooking meals again and she began driving. She attended a wedding in New York.
Mrs. Goldberg went to Palm Beach for Thanksgiving. She went with her husband to New Zealand, a preplanned trip. She went a couple of times to St. Maarten with her husband on business.
Dr. Goldberg testified that he is not a depressed person normally but he thinks about his daughter constantly. He starts crying when he sees a school bus.
Mrs. Goldberg went to therapy. It did not help. He went to grief counseling which made it worse and he stopped going.
The Parents’ Pain and Suffering Will Last For Their Whole Lives
The testimony indicated that the pain and suffering of the plaintiffs was real and intense and will remain with them for their entire lives.
Under the mortality tables, the 12-year-old decedent child would have a life expectancy of 68.2 more years. There was no testimony regarding these mortality tables. The age of the decedent and survivor affects the value of a wrongful death case.
There was no evidence of the value of services or support. The child did not have any extraordinary income-producing attributes.
Court Approves $6.5 Million Verdict for Both Parents of (17 Year Old) Killed in a Car Accident)
Paulette was killed in a car accident on January 26, 1991 in Florida. Although the accident happened a long time ago, the appeals case was decided more recently. You’ll see this in a moment.
Paulette was 17 years old.
Her parents believed that a defective seatbelt caused her death. Paulette was survived by her mother and father, Anthony Ferayorni.
Paulette’s father was appointed personal representative (“PR”) of her estate. As PR of her estate, he sued Hyundai Motor Company.
At trial, the jury found in favor of the Estate.
They awarded $3.12 Million in compensation to Paulette’s father for his pain and suffering. The jury awarded $3.38 million to her mother for past and future pain and suffering.
The trial judge thought that this was too big of an award. The trial court reduced it to $3 Million for pain and suffering in total for both parents.
The PR didn’t accept the trial court’s reduction. Thus, he appealed the reduction.
The appeals court said that $6.5 million was a proper amount for both parents’ pain and suffering. It said that the jury awarded $3,380,000 to Paulette’s mother and $3,120,000 to Paulette’s father for past and future pain and suffering.
The appeals court said that different amounts for pain and suffering would be consistent with the fact that Paulette’s mother had a longer life expectancy. “Life expectancy” is how long someone is expected to live.
When the trial court reduced the $6 million pain and suffering verdict, it did so primarily by the fact that the PR’s attorney had only suggested $3 million in closing argument. However, the appeals court said that, it is not clear, however, from the trial transcript, whether the lawyer was suggesting $3,000,000 total or $3,000,000 for each parent.
Appeals Court Says Older Verdicts Have Limited Value
The trial court also, as a basis for lowering the verdict, looked at amounts awarded in Florida for child wrongful death cases from older cases. The appeals court said that cases (verdicts) decided more than five years earlier were of limited value.
What is one lesson to be learned from this case?
If you’re trying to settle a wrongful death case with an insurance company, send them similar verdicts within the past 5 years. They have more value than verdicts that are more than 5 years old. Older verdicts may still matter. However, recent verdicts hold more weight with an insurance company or judge.
If this case happened today, the PIP coverage on Paulette’s car insurance would’ve also paid $5,000 in total to her parents for her death. The $5,000 death benefit pays regardless of fault.
This assumes that she had auto insurance at the time of the accident. This case is for Hyundai Motor Co. v. Ferayorni, 842 So.2d 905, 908 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003). This appeals court decision was in 2003.
The parents’ used a Fort Lauderdale lawyer. Hyundai used Orlando attorneys.
Appeals Court Allows $15 Million Dollars for Mental Pain and Suffering of Each Parent
This isn’t my case. An appeals court allowed a $15 Million Dollar mental pain and suffering award to each parent of a 13 year old who was horrifically burned in a car crash.
He died two hours after the accident. The appeals decision is General Motors Corp. v.McGee, 837 So. 2d 1010 (Fla. 4th DCA 2002).
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal (DCA) issued its ruling on December 18, 2002.
Florida’s 4th DCA handles appeals from Palm Beach, Broward, St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties. The 4th DCA is located in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Court OKs $2.5 Million for Each Parent for Pain and Suffering (Negligent Stillbirth)
This isn’t my case. The Hurleys sued a doctor and Health Center for negligent stillbirth. Since the child was born without a heartbeat, this wasn’t a “wrongful death” case.
The jury awarded $2.5 million to each parent’s mental pain and suffering. The trial court reduced the verdict for being too high.
The appeals court disagreed. It said the verdict was OK. The appeals court said:
The emotional devastation and mental anguish suffered by parents due to the loss of their “eagerly anticipated first child” is no less palpable when the negligent act destroys a “fetus” the instant before delivery rather than a “person” the instant after the delivery.
The court said that this full-term, “unborn child” was killed in a horrible way moments before delivery. They said that there was overwhelming evidence of the mental pain and anguish suffered by the parents. Kammer v. Hurley, 765 So. 2d 975 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000)
$9 Million Verdict Approved for Parents of 19 Month Old Killed by Medical Malpractice
This isn’t my case. On August 14, 1992, Alonzette Brinson, a nineteen-month-old infant, was admitted to St. Mary’s to undergo an out-patient surgical procedure to correct a drooping eyelid.
The surgery was performed under general anesthesia with Dr. John Cooney administering the anesthesia through equipment owned and provided by St. Mary’s.
Apparently, during surgery, Alonzette received an increased amount of anesthesia and eventually suffered cardiac arrest. Alonzette was placed on a life support respirator and, ten days later, Alonzette was pronounced dead.
As a result, the Brinsons brought a negligence lawsuit against St. Mary’s, Dr. Cooney, and Dr. Cooney’s professional association.
A jury awarded $9 million to the Brinsons. Almost the entire verdict was for the parents’ pain and suffering.
This is because the baby died 10 days after the medical malpractice. Thus, the medical bills that were owed were very small compared to the millions awarded for their pain and suffering.
The parents’ used West Palm Beach attorneys. St. Mary’s Hospital used Miami and West Palm Beach lawyers.
Uber and Lyft May Have Up to $1 Million of Coverage for a Child’s Death
If a minor child is killed by an Uber or Lyft driver who is engaged in a ride, there will usually be much more insurance available than a typical car accident. This is because Uber and Lyft carry $1 million dollar single limit insurance policies while the vehicle is engaged in a ride. Once an Uber or Lyft driver accepts a ride on their app, they are “engaged in a ride”.
York Risk Services Group handles Lyft’s claims. Zurich American Insurance Company is the insurer who pays (behind the scenes).
Uber uses several different insurance companies. In Florida, unfortunately for passengers and others, Uber uses Progressive.
If an Amazon flex driver is delivering something and causes an accident that kills a minor, Amazon’s business auto insurance will pay up to $1 million in total for the parents’ pain and suffering.
Postmates drivers are covered with a $1 million per accident automobile liability coverage for injury or damage to third parties.
Now, let’s take a look at some actual verdicts:
Actual Case (not mine) : $61 million to the parents of a child who was passenger in an SUV that rolled over in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The parents sued Ford and alleged that the SUV had a defective design and that was cause of the rollover.
Actual Case (not mine) : $30 Million to the parents of a minor in Orange County, Florida who was given too much of a prescription drug and this lead to an overdose and death.
The lawsuit was against the doctor for medical malpractice.
Appeals Court OKs $1 Million Award for Each Parent (Child Who Drowned at Disney)
This isn’t my case. An appeals court said that a verdict awarding $1 million for past and future pain and suffering to each parent of a child who drowned on amusement park premises was not too much. The case is Walt Disney World Co. v. Goode, 501 So.2d 622, 626 (Fla. 5th DCA 1986).
I’ve written a lot about Walt Disney World accident settlements and claims.
$900,000 Verdict for Each Parent Approved for Death of 15 Year Old
An appeals court approved a $1,800,000 verdict for the mental pain and suffering of the parents for the death of their 15-year-old son. The appeals court said that the father basically witnessed the accident and the wife had depression as a result of the accident.
My thoughts: The appeals court basically said that there was no problem with the jury awarding $900,000 to each parent.
I arrived at $900,000 by dividing the total settlement by the number of parents (2).
$19 Million Verdict for Mother of Minor Child Killed (Car Accident)
This isn’t my case. In April 1997, Lance Hall, a passenger of a Ford SUV was killed when the driver fell asleep at the wheel. When the driver awoke, she tried to get the SUV back on the road but it flipped.
The personal representative of the estate, Lance’s mother, Joan Hall-Edwards, sued Ford Motors in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Joan was successful on her claim against Ford that there was a design defect with the handling/stability of the Ford Explorer.
The verdict summary did not state whether Lance made a claim against the driver of the vehicle that Lance was in.
If this accident occurred today, if Lance owned a car Joan could also bring a claim for up to $10,000 in medical and disability benefits and $5,000 in death benefits under the Personal Injury Protection (P.I.P.) coverage in Lance’s auto insurance policy.
Let’s assume that Lance did not own a car at the time of the accident, but lived with his mom. In this scenario, Joan could get $5,000 in death benefits and up to $10,000 in medical benefits. This money would come from the PIP coverage in her auto insurance policy.
What if Lance did not own a car or live with his mom at the time of the accident?
In that case, Joan can make a PIP claim for death and medical benefits under the insurance for the vehicle that Lance was a passenger in.
Joan also could have brought a case against the bodily injury liability (BI) insurance coverage of driver of the vehicle. In most situations a car owner in Florida is liable for damages caused to someone else when someone drives his or her car. Therefore, Joan (Lance’s mother) could have had a case against the owner of the vehicle based on the driver’s negligence.
The verdict summary does not state whether Lance’s mom was married. If she was married, her husband would have had a claim for mental pain and suffering for the wrongful death of his son.
On January 2013, the jury awarded $19,000,000 in pain and suffering. $10,000,000 was for past pain and suffering and $9,000,000 was for future pain and suffering.
In a wrongful death case in Florida, a parent is entitled to both past pain and suffering as well as future pain and suffering from the date of the death forward. It seems to me that the $19,000,000 was awarded only to Lance’s mom, Joan.
Although this case is tragic, the good news for Joan is that because Ford is such a large company, it has the money to pay a large verdict such as this one.
If the only person at fault would have been the driver, then Lance’s mom may have been stuck with having to possibly accept the PIP death benefit limit as well as the BI coverage in the driver’s – or the car owner’s – auto insurance policy.
This of course, assumes that either of them had BI coverage.
If Lance was covered under an underinsured motorist UM/UIM insurance policy, his mother could have made a claim against the UM/UIM coverage in addition to the BI coverage of the driver or owner’s insurance policy.
$17.5 Million Dollar Verdict for Parents of a Minor Who Drowned
This isn’t my case. This happened at a day care in Hallandale, Broward County, Fl. The parents sued the day care for not properly supervising the child.
Actual Case (not mine): $15 Million Dollar Verdict for child in whose medical provider failed to diagnose and treat his heart failure and the child died. Pinellas County, Florida.
Actual Case (not mine): $12 Million Dollar Verdict for pain and suffering for the parents of a 9 year-old boy who was killed when hit by a minivan while he was riding his bicycle in at a condominium complex in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Actual Case (not mine) : $10 Million Dollar Verdict for the parents of an 11-year-old child who was a passenger in his mother’s car when a drunk driver t-boned the car.
$9.25 Million Awarded to the Parents of Girl Who Was Killed When Sign Fell on Her
This isn’t my case. A young girl who was killed when a traffic sign fell on her while she was driving beneath it. Her parents sued the Florida Department of Transportation in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Actual Case (not mine): $8.75 million for the parents of a child who was killed when someone did not stop at a red traffic light and the SUV crashed. Palm Beach County, Florida.
Actual Case (not mine): $8.1 million. Children were killed when their grandmother was driving a car that struck a guard rail and went into a canal.
Actual Case (not mine): $7.5 million. Child died when he was caught in a baby exercising device at someone’s home. The estate sued the manufacturer of the baby exerciser. Hillsborough County, Florida.
Actual Case (not mine) : $4.1 million in pain and suffering alone to the 40 year-old father of a 12 year old boy who was electrocuted because a bus stop in Miami-Dade County that had electrical wires that were exposed.
This verdict does not include the mother’s claim. She settled her case separately. The verdict was in 2005. The case is Cabrera v. Eller Media.
My thoughts: The jury basically awarded $111,000 per year for the pain and suffering that the father has and will have from his son’s death. I got this amount because the life expectancy of a man is about 77 years old.
Therefore, the father was supposed to live another 37 or so years.
I divided the $4.1 Million is pain and suffering by the 37 years that the father was supposed to live.
How Long Does It Take to Settle a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for a Child’s Death?
All things equal, wrongful death cases settle much faster than personal injury cases. This is because the value of a case for the wrongful death of a child is often more than the available insurance.
Take for example, a “minor child” whose parent is killed in a car accident. Assume that another driver’s negligence caused the parent’s death.
You’ve already seen that the parents can get millions in compensation for their parent and suffering.
Let’s assume that the at fault driver has a $1 million (or smaller) dollar insurance policy. In this case, his or her insurance company should quickly pay the insurance limits. This is because the insurance company doesn’t want to expose their insured to a big verdict.
On the other hand, if the at fault party has a huge insurance policy, it may take longer to settle the case. This particularly true if the responsible party is claiming that they aren’t at fault.
What Happens When a Child Who Lives in Another State is Killed While Visiting Florida?
Let’s assume that a minor child is killed in a car accident while visiting Florida. If so, there is a good chance that the at fault driver will not have enough bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage to pay for the fair value of the claim. If the child’s parents have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage, it should pay for their pain and suffering and other damages.
The out of state law will determine how long the parents have to sue their own auto insurance company (for UM coverage). The out of state law will also determine the amount of UM coverage that is available to the parents. Additionally, the out of state law will also decide if the parents are entitled to UM coverage.
Florida law will not decide those above three issues. However, Florida law determines fault, and the value of the parent’s pain and suffering.
Can a Stepparent Get Compensation for the Death of a Stepparent?
Unfortunately, not in a Florida wrongful death case. In Grant v. Sedco Corporation, 364 So.2d 774 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1978),the court ruled that the doctrine of equitable adoption permits enforcement of contractual rights. However, it does not establish a relationship of parent and child under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. See also Jolley v. Seamco Labs. Inc., 828 So. 2d 1050, 1051 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002)
Grant was cited with approval by the Florida Supreme Court in Tarver v. Evergreen Sod Farms, Inc., 533 So. 2d 765 (Fla. 1988). In Tarver, the court denied workman’s compensation benefits to an equitably (not legally) adopted child of the decedent. The court said that the doctrine of equitable adoption was not intended to create the legal relationship of parent and child. Thus, it could not be utilized as a law before the death of the adoptive parent. The court restricted the use of the doctrine to probate cases where it is needed to avoid harsh consequences from the use of intestacy statutes.
Thus stepparents can’t get compensation for pain and suffering for a stepchild’s death.
Can Someone Who Adopts a Minor Child Get Compensation for the Child’s Death?
Yes. Someone who legally adopts a child has a claim for the child’s death under the Florida Wrongful Death Act. Grant v. Sedco Corporation, 364 So.2d 774 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1978). Of course, parent will have to show that a party’s negligence caused the death of the adopted child.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2011 and has been completely revamped and updated.