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,
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.
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