Does Florida Require That a Court Approve All Wrongful Death Settlements?
Court Approval Requirements for Florida Wrongful Death Settlements
In Florida, a Court must approve some wrongful death settlements, but not all. Florida Statute § 768.25 states that “[w]hile an action under this act is pending, no settlement as to amount or appointment among the beneficiaries which is objected to by any survivor or which affects a survivor who is a minor or an incompetent shall be effective unless approved by the court.”
At Flanagan & Bodenheimer Injury and Wrongful Death Law Firm, our Miami lawyers know Florida’s complex court approval requirement laws. We can help you understand whether a court must authorize your settlement and what this means for your case.
Contactusat (305) 638-4143 for legal assistance.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
Before we further discuss the meaning of Florida’s law, let’s take a step back.
The only person who can bring a wrongful death claim is the Court Appointed Personal Representative of the Estate of the deceased. After being appointed by the Court, the Personal Representative makes decisions regarding how the litigation is handled and, ultimately, whether to accept a settlement offer. The Personal Representative has the authority to enter into a settlement agreement and perform other acts on behalf of the estate and survivors.
When it comes time to settle, the Personal Representative makes that decision for the benefit of the survivors and the estate. If a Personal Representative decides that it is in the best interests of the estate and survivors to settle, then we need to consider whether the settlement would be ineffective unless the Court approves it.
When Is Court Approval Required?
One situation in which court approval is necessary for a wrongful death settlement is when one or more beneficiaries is a minor child. If a survivor is a minor child, the Court may appoint a guardian ad litem. The guardian ad litem is a special attorney who evaluates whether the settlement is in the child’s best interests. They will review the case and advise the Court of their findings. No settlement will be effective unless the Court approves it.
If none of the survivors are minor children, Florida law requires Court approval of the apportionment of the settlement proceeds if the beneficiaries or survivors listed in the Complaint disagree on how the settlement funds should be disbursed amongst the survivors.
This is an important distinction. The Personal Representative can settle the case as he or she sees fit, provided that no survivors are minor children. Then, the survivors can object only to the apportionment of the net settlement proceeds between the survivors, not the settlement itself.
For example, suppose a total settlement of $3 million is reached in a wrongful death case. The only survivors are two divorced adult parents of a deceased child. In this case, the Personal Representative was the father. He authorized the settlement.
In this example, attorney’s fees and costs are to be deducted from the settlement, as well as other debts of the estate. The remaining money is to be apportioned among the two parents is $1.5 million. The father, being the Personal Representative, decides that he is entitled to $1 million, and the mother is entitled to $500,000.
The mother can file an objection to the apportionment of the $1.5 million net proceeds in probate court. The probate court will then either approve the apportionment or hold a hearing to decide whether the father’s proposed apportionment is fair and reasonable.
Getting Legal Help with a Wrongful Death Case
The settlement of a wrongful death case involving several survivors, especially if the survivors are family members who don’t get along or children, can be very complicated. It is important to hire a probate attorney and a wrongful death lawyer with experience handling these claims. At Flanagan & Bodenheimer Injury and Wrongful Death Law Firm, our lawyers in Miami can provide a full explanation of the court approval process for wrongful death settlements. By discussing the particulars upfront, we can help avoid unnecessary hearings and intrafamily disputes at the end of the case.
For compassionate and dedicated service, please call us at (305) 638-4143 or contact us online today.