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Date: May 16, 2024

Florida Supreme Court Ruling Upends “Marriage Before Injury” Common Law Understanding of Spousal Recovery in Wrongful Death Cases

by Foley Mansfield
Date: May 16, 2024
by Foley Mansfield

Florida Supreme Court Ruling Upends “Marriage Before Injury” Common Law Understanding of Spousal Recovery in Wrongful Death Cases

The Florida Supreme Court has upended a longstanding common law understanding of spousal recovery in wrongful death cases. In a recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court held that a spouse who married a decedent after the onset of the injury that caused decedent’s death is in fact a “surviving spouse” under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. The common law “marriage before injury” rule no longer bars recovery by a surviving spouse who married the decedent after the date of injury under the wrongful death statute.

The Florida Supreme Court recognized that the Florida Wrongful Death Act does not define the term “surviving spouse,” and interpreted the ordinary meaning of the phrase to mean a spouse who outlives the other spouse.

This case has considerable ramifications for Florida wrongful death cases. Florida trial courts have routinely granted motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment in situations where a spouse who married the plaintiff/decedent after injury (for example, after a last known toxic tort exposure), sought to recover consortium damages. These courts have routinely affirmed the traditional common law “marriage before injury rule,” citing a Fourth District opinion that a spouse who was not married to a decedent at the time of the decedent’s exposure may not recover consortium damages as part of a wrongful death suit.

However, the Florida Supreme Court stated that juries may still consider evidencing regarding the timing and duration of a couple’s marriage in determining whether a spouse’s conduct amounts to an attempt to marry into a cause of action under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act.

 

Contact:

Eduardo Medina

Timothy Ferguson

Related Practice Areas:

Medical Malpractice Defense

Product Liability

Talc Litigation

Toxic Tort / Mass Tort

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