Florida Wrongful Death Action – Determining Paternity

In Greenfield v. Daniels (November 24, 2010), the Florida Supreme Court decided that paternity of a child could be determined in the course of a wrongful death proceeding under Chapter 768, Fla. Statutes rather than in a paternity proceeding under Ch. 742, Fla. Stat. The Court’s decision disapproved the conflicting decision of a lower appellate court in Achumba v. Neustein, 793 So.2d 1013 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).

In Greenfield, the bioligical father of a minor child committed suicide. A wrongful death action was brought by the estate of the decedent against a psychiartist (and a hospital) for allegedly negligently discharging him. A claim was made for the minor as a “survivor” under the statute. However, the doctor challenged the child’s status as a “survivor,” claiming that the child’s status could not be established after the purported father’s death.

The legal question at issue was whether or not paternity could be established in the wrongful death proceeding.

The child was born while the mother was married to another man, and she and the decedent never lived together. A legal determination of paternity had not been made prior to the decedent’s death. The Defendant doctor argued that it could not be made after the purported father’s death.

The Florida Supreme Court disagreed. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that paternity could be determined for the first time in the course of a Chapter 768 wrongful death proceeding.

In my opinion, this was the correct decision. A contrary result would have deprived the child of significant rights under the wrongful death statute. The factual scenario is not unusual, so the decision will protect the rights of future survivors.

Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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