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Nicoletti Walker Law Group Nov. 13, 2014

Over the past several years, Florida has drawn unwanted attention in connection with the shooting of 17-year old African American, Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The shooter, George Zimmerman, claimed that he had the right to defend himself with lethal force based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute. A jury acquitted, however, Mr. Zimmerman of second-degree murder and of manslaughter charges.

Florida Wrongful Death Claims

Each year unfortunately, there are numerous cases in Florida and throughout the United States that involve shooting deaths. Often, shooting deaths are caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless conduct. When this occurs, the family of the deceased victim may be able to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.

Florida’s wrongful death statute allows surviving family members to bring a claim for pecuniary damages to compensate them for their individual loss. Examples of recoverable damages include lost wages, loss of companionship and society, and mental pain and suffering for the surviving family members.

Wrongful death claims may be brought against an individual that is believed to have wrongfully caused the death of another. Wrongful death actions may also be filed against government officials, such as police officers and sheriffs. A recent ruling by a Florida jury, however, shows that it can be difficult to recover damages against a police officer or sheriff in a wrongful death action.

Jury Finds Sheriff Did Not Use Excessive Force in 2009 Shooting

A Panama City jury recently acquitted a Walton County deputy sheriff in connection with the shooting and death of an unarmed Freeport man. The man’s surviving family member filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff in the U.S. District Court in Panama City. The family claimed that the sheriff used excessive force when he shot and killed the man in the woods of his Freeport home. The family sought $20 million in damages in their lawsuit.

Ultimately, however, the jury found that the man posed an imminent threat to the sheriff and that the sheriff had probable cause to use deadly force. The evidence presented at trial showed that the sheriff believed the man to be intoxicated and armed with a knife in his pocket. Moreover, the sheriff recounted that the man shouted, “Kill me. Go ahead, kill me,” as the man charged toward the sheriff. The man then apparently stuffed his hands into his pockets, which prompted the sheriff to fire twice.

Ultimately, the case appeared to turn on the testimony of the sheriff, the only eyewitness to the incident. As such, the sheriff’s credibility and his version of the events persuaded the jury to find that the sheriff did not use excessive force.

Contact a Florida Wrongful Death Attorney

If a family member has been killed as a result of another’s negligent or reckless conduct, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. You should contact a Florida wrongful death attorney to find out what rights you may have. Contact Mike Walker Law’s experienced wrongful death attorneys today for a consultation and case evaluation. We want to help you and your family to recover damages for the loss of your loved one.