The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports that a bill pending before the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Florida, would allow families to file a civil suit in “cold cases” in which the killer or perhaps the body is not discovered until years after the crime. Currently, Florida’s wrongful death statute has only a two year statute of limitations which basically requires that any civil lawsuit arising out of a death must be filed in court within two years of the date of death or it will be forever barred.
The current two year statute of limitations in Florida has the practical event of preventing the filing ofwrongful death lawsuits in murder and other types of cases because where the wrongdoer’s identity is not known until long after the death occurred. In cases where the victim dies and there is no one on the scene to identify the tortfeasor, it is not uncommon for them to flee rather than to wait around and identify themselves to authorities.
This bill (HB1) — that will remove Florida’s two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims — resulted from the dedicated efforts of the family of Jeffrey Klee, deceased, and would bear his name.
Klee’s remains were located in a van at the bottom of Coral Springs Canal in 2008, over-31 years after he disappeared. Police believe Klee was murdered by a “friend,” who later admitted to pushing the van, with Klee’s body in it, into the canal. Even though this person acknowledged pushing the van into the canal, Klee’s family was unable to sue him in civil court for wrongful death because the two-year statue of limitations had long since expired. The law applies prospectively to future cases only.
The legal justification for statutes of limitations is based on due process considerations for potential defendants. It is reasoned that the longer the time period between the date of the alleged wrongful conduct and the date that the lawsuit is filed, the more difficult it is for the defendant to obtain the evidence required to mount a defense. Witnesses’ memories fade over time and the opportunity to take photographs may be gone.
Notwithstanding these considerations, this bill is a much needed recognition by the Florida legislature that a victim’s family should not be precluded from seeking justice in situations where it was impossible to file the lawsuit within the two-year statute of limitations. Also, it is somewhat suprising that this bill has progressed, given the current pro-business, anti-consumer climate in Tallahassee. As a practical matter, this case would not significantly increase the number of wrongful death cases filed in court since only a very few cases involve situations where the identity of the wrongdoer is not known within two years. Nonetheless, it is a good bill which deserves to be the law in the State of Florida.
With over 50 years of collective service to the South Florida community, the Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyers at The Ben Law Firm have helped thousands of clients to obtain money compensation for their personal injury and wrongful death claims.
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