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The Importance of Understanding the Civil Wrongful Death Action Statutes in Determining Your Claim

Categories:Law in Florida

The representative of the estate of a decedent who died as a result of a wrongful death, whether or not the death involved a criminal action, may bring a civil action against the person or persons responsible for their loved one’s death under Florida and/or federal law depending on the circumstances surrounding the case.

As an example, in the case the Estate of Paula O’Connor et al v. United States of America in the United States District Court Middle District of Florida Tampa division, Case No. 8:12-cv-02070-T-27MAP decided by the court on March 26, 2013, the personal representative for the estate of Paula O’Connor brought an action before the federal district court alleging that certain “actions, inactions and/or omissions” by the United States led to the murder of Paula O’Connor and her 14 month old son, Alijah O’Conner, in July 6, 2007 by Alijah’s father, Ralph Daniel Wright, Jr. (“Wright”). In this case, the plaintiff (representative of the estate) alleges that the United States’ negligent actions of withholding information and evidence led to the murders of the decedents. The United States filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s first amended complaint on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matters because plaintiff failed to file a timely administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

The facts surrounding the case are that Wright, who was a reserve sergeant and law enforcement officer in the United States Air Force stationed at MacDill Air force Base in Tampa Florida, and  Paula O’Connor met on an Internet site approximately a year and half before the murders. The couple had a sexual relationship that resulted in the out of wedlock birth of Alija O’Conner, who was born with medical disabilities and deformities requiring ongoing and substantial medical care. Plaintiffs allege that Wright deceived O’Connor about his marital status and his intentions towards her and the child, denying paternity and failing to provide any emotional or financial support. O’Connor subsequently filed a paternity action against Wright and posted a dead beat dad military website with Wright’s name, which could have potentially negatively affected Wright’s military career, because adultery is a violation of the UCMJ. Wright was subsequently convicted of premeditated first degree murder in 2008 for the deaths of the decedents Paula O’Connor and her child Alija.

Plaintiff alleges that Wright’s unavailability and abandonment of O’Connor and her child were supported by his co-worker’s and his commanding officer’s actions. Plaintiffs also argued that the delayed discovery rule applied in the case. It should be noted under the FTCA, a delayed discovery rule may apply when “a wrongful death claim accrues when plaintiff knows, or exercising reasonable diligence should know, both of the decedent’s death and its causal connection with the government.” The government contends that claims accrued in this case no later than June 25, 2009, at the time plaintiff filed a motion for final judgment in the paternity proceeding and that plaintiff was aware of the two year statute of limitation under the FTCA. The court agreed, but argued that plaintiff’s claim accrued no later than December 18, 2008, at the time of Wright’s conviction for the murders of decedents.

The court also argued that plaintiff knew of the causal connection with the government and failed to file the wrongful death complaint within the prescribed statutory period. The court also held that the government is under no obligation to provide civilians with information regarding an ongoing criminal investigation. Further the court held that the plaintiff was aware of the way the Air Force had handled Ms. O’Connor’s requests as of the time of the murders and that plaintiff failed to establish their burden that the court had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case. In addition, the court held that plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient information to support a connection between the Air Force’s negligence and the deaths of O’Connor and Alijah O’Connor more than two years before Plaintiff’s filed their claim. Defendant, U.S. government’s order to dismiss was granted by the court, the Plaintiff’s request for oral argument was denied and the first amended complaint for wrongful death damages was dismissed with prejudice.

This case demonstrates the importance of how complex wrongful death cases can be and why it is extremely important to hire an experienced Tampa Bay wrongful death personal injury attorney to assist you with all aspects of your case and making sure that you meet all the statutory deadlines and filing procedures.

If you believe that your loved one’s death was caused by the negligent acts of another individual or entity, as personal representative of your loved one’s estate, you may be entitled to collect on behalf of the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries compensation for loss of financial and emotional support, emotional distress, loss of future earnings, reimbursement of the decedent’s medical bills, funeral and burial expenses and other damages resulting from the wrongful death civil and negligent acts of the person or entity responsible for the decedent’s death.

At Brooks Law Group, our Tampa Bay wrongful death attorneys understand the complexity of wrongful death cases and the emotional and financial impact the loss of a loved one can have on the surviving family members. We will provide you with a free initial consultation with one of our experienced and knowledgeable Tampa Bay wrongful death personal injury attorneys to access your case and recommend the best course of action for you to take. We are here to help you pursue justice on behalf of your loved one. Please give us a call today at 888-We-Mean-It (888-936-3264).

 

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