Crime Within the Family

By now most of our readers should know that where a crime is committed, there may also be an avenue for civil recovery, by suing the wrongdoer for damages. A recent case provides an interesting analysis as to what happens when a family member is killed by another family member, and a surviving spouse attempts to sue for damages as a result of that crime.

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A Tragic Familial Murder Case

The case is Cosman v. Rodriguez, and it involved the killing of a wife by her husband after fifty years of marriage. The husband was convicted of murder, but the wife’s surviving adult child tried to sue the husband for damages.

He sued both on behalf of his late mother’s estate, but also individually, for his own grief, pain, and suffering.

The problem was that Florida’s wrongful death act states in part that minor children can recover wrongful death damages from the death of a parent only if there is no surviving spouse. Here, of course, there was a surviving spouse—the murderous husband behind bars.

Thus, the husband argued, the son could recover nothing, because he was still alive. The trial court agreed, and dismissed the son’s wrongful death action.

Appellate Court Cites Probate Statute

But on appeal, the appellate court noted that the trial court did not apply an important statute in Florida’s probate code. That statute says that where a survivor kills the deceased, Florida’s probate code treats the situation like the survivor predeceased the dead person.

In plain language, it means that someone who kills another gets no benefits under Florida’s probate laws. You can’t kill your wife and expect to have her assets devised to you. The statute also says that “Any other acquisition of property or interest by the killer,” is treated in the same manner, thus extending the reach of the statute beyond the Probate Code into other areas, such as personal injury lawsuits.

Because it was presumed that the husband had died first, thus negating the language of the wrongful death statute, the appellate court reversed the trial court, and pushed the case back to the lower court to allow the son’s wrongful death case to continue.

Husband Tries Another Low Tactic

Adding to the charm of the husband, he also called another of his deceased wife’s sons, this one severely disabled, to testify at trial. The child was clearly not competent to testify.

The appellate court held that the only reason the disabled son was being called was to create sympathy with the jury, and that awarding damages against the husband would somehow hurt or affect the lifestyle of the disabled child. There was no evidence that the husband even supported the disabled child.

As many inter-familial problems tend to become, this dispute became very ugly. Still, from an academic standpoint, it does go to show that there are laws that prevent family members who kill others from profiting from their deeds, and that there may still be valid wrongful death claims for any surviving relatives or children.

Injury cases can be personal and sensitive, and may call into play statutes from other areas of law. You need attorneys that can give you a big picture analysis. Talk to the Miami personal injury attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today for a free consultation about your injury case.

Photo Credit: mr.smashy via Compfight cc

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