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Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Opens Door to Recovery in Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Cases

On June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a fundamental, constitutional right.  While the implications on the right to marry for same-sex couples are obvious, the potential impact of this ruling in personal injury and wrongful death cases is significant.  The new ruling means that same-sex married couples can now recover damages in personal injury and wrongful death cases as a result of the death or injury of their partner.  

Prior to Obergefell, same-sex couples had no legal standing to recover such damages.  This is because Florida’s laws governing personal injury and wrongful death suits limited potential plaintiffs to a specific list of relationships, which did not include unmarried partners.  

In Florida, the only parties legally authorized to sue for damages in a wrongful death case are spouses, children, parents, dependent blood relatives and dependent adopted brothers and sisters.  Similarly, in personal injury cases, only spouses and children can recover damages for lost companionship and mental pain and suffering.  

As a result of the Obergefell ruling, same-sex spouses may file a suit or join a suit as a plaintiff to recover damages for various categories of losses, including pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and loss of support and services.  Damages awarded to a spouse in such cases can be substantial, depending upon the nature and circumstances of the injury or death.

Keep in mind that, in Florida, the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases is two years from the date of death.  For general personal injury cases, the statute of limitations in Florida is four years, but personal injury cases arising from medical malpractice have a two year statute of limitations.  If you think you or someone you know may have a case in light of the Obergefell ruling, contact an attorney right away.   


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