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In a recent case decided by the Florida Supreme Court, this issue arose with a surviving child, who was born by a man who was not married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, but supported the child. Greenfield v. Daniels, No. SC09-1675 (Fla. Nov. 24, 2010); Tenet St. Mary’s, Inc. v. Daniels, No. SC09-1676 (Fla. Nov. 24, 2010).
Since Florida’s wrongful death laws are all statutory, most of the law derives from the statutes; unless there is an ambiguity, and then the courts must resolve the ambiguity by interpreting the statutes. In Daniels, Rozine Cerine (Cerine), the child’s mother, was married to Willie Washington (Washington) in 1999, but they separated in 2000. After that time, Cerine met Shea Daniels (Daniels), the decedent, and gave birth to their child, the surviving child in this case, in 2001. Daniels and Cerine maintained a rocky relationship, but Daniels supported Cerine by paying weekly support for their child. Cerine later divorced her husband in 2004. Daniels committed suicide in 2005. The lower court in this case held that because Cerine was married to Washington at the time of the child’s birth, the presumption of legitimacy required it to declare as a matter of law that Washington was the child’s legal father in the wrongful death action. Therefore, the child could not be considered a survivor of the decedent, Daniels, who was the actual father of the child.
Florida’s Supreme Court disagreed. Based on the ordinary meaning of the word “father,” and the legislative history of the statutes at issue, the Court held that the biological child of a man not married to the mother may claim survivor damages in a wrongful death action so long as it is established that the decedent is the biological parent and that he acknowledged responsibility for support. Therefore, the surviving child could bring the wrongful death action because Daniels was the biological father and Daniels provided support to the child while he was still alive. The Court noted that it is the purpose of wrongful death actions to impute losses of survivors to the wrongdoer. In the case of a surviving child, such as this one, the outcome could not be better served.
When cases are as complicated as this one you will require the assistance of a highly qualified Clearwater wrongful death lawyer
Carey & Leisure
622 Bypass Drive Suite 100
Clearwater, FL 33