In response to a new discovery in a 32-year-old murder case, Florida legislators are considering extending our state’s statute of limitations — the deadline by which potential plaintiffs must file their cases — in Florida wrongful death lawsuits. The Jeffrey Klee Memorial Act would extend the statute of limitations from two years to indefinitely in wrongful deaths caused by murder or manslaughter, the Miami Herald reported March 29.
The bill follows the discovery of the body of Jeffrey Klee, an 18-year-old who disappeared in 1977, in a canal in Coral Springs. Police believe they have identified the killer, and thanks to a 1996 change in Florida criminal law, they can charge the man criminally — even though there was a three-year deadline in effect for manslaughter in 1977. But the law for civil wrongful death claims didn’t keep up. Family members have just two years from the date of the death to bring a claim, even when they had no way of knowing about the death or the person responsible.
After reading about the family’s situation, two state senators introduced a bill to change that. It would not allow Klee’s family to bring a case themselves, but it would allow future families in their situation to bring a wrongful death claim for murder or manslaughter “at any time.” According to the Florida Legislature’s Web site, the bill is currently in committee.
As a South Florida wrongful death attorney, I strongly support this bill. Statutes of limitations are absolute deadlines, which means you may not file a lawsuit, no matter how valid your case is, if that deadline has already passed. This sometimes means I must turn away families with strong cases and clear injuries, simply because the deadline has come and gone. This bill would correct that injustice — and even better, it may allow some families to take the time they need to grieve before they begin to think about pursuing a Florida wrongful death lawsuit.
A wrongful death claim allows Florida families that have lost someone because of another party’s negligence to hold that party legally liable. In most cases, that means both the emotional harm and the financial harm caused by the death — loss of an income, household services, funeral costs and other costs. Financial compensation might sound inadequate to families who have lost someone dear to them — and it is. But financial compensation can also be very important to a family struggling to make ends meet after a breadwinner was taken too soon, or as a means of punishing very serious wrongdoing.
Importantly, families may pursue a wrongful death claim in Florida regardless of whether there is also a criminal case against the perpetrator. If you have lost a loved one in Florida and you would like to discuss your case and your options, you should call our firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn. Based in Dade and Broward Counties, our Pembroke Pines wrongful death attorneys serve clients throughout South Florida. To set up a free consultation, please call our main office at (954) 431-8100 or contact us online.