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Supreme Court Marriage Ruling Affects Personal Injury Law

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that states were required to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples the same way they issue marriage licenses to heterosexual couples. The ruling has many far-reaching legal implications, including rights under power of lawyer agreements, inheritances and estates and their taxation, implications for divorce, separation, alimony, and child support, and more.

But one of the first impacts to be examined in Florida is the effect on legal issues arising from personal injury lawsuits. Prior to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage, same-sex unmarried couples (or same-sex couples whose marriages were not recognized in the state in which they were living) did not have standing to file suit for damages in the case of the death or injury of their partner due to any tort, or wrongdoing based on violating a duty of care. The reasoning for the rule was that in many states’ civil codes, including that of Florida, a “survivor” (the person able to sue in such cases) was defined solely as the decedent’s spouse.

But after the Supreme Court ruling, this is bound to change. Under the ruling, Florida will be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (or, possibly, to stop issuing them altogether as some states have), meaning that a survivor in a personal injury incident could well be the decedent’s same-sex partner.

The changes mean that currently in Florida, a survivor of a same-sex marriage may file suit as a survivor and therefore recover damages typically ordered in personal injury lawsuits, such as pain and suffering and loss of companionship. Additionally, if a member of a same-sex married couple dies without having predetermined their wishes for their estate and without the existence of a will, the same-sex partner will now be legally able to be appointed representative of the state.

Next, states like Florida will be required to consider the corresponding issues. For instance, will lawsuits filed before the ruling by the Supreme Court be able to be retroactively changed to comply with the law as it now stands? And if the same-sex partners were not married at the time of one partner’s death through tortious action, how, if at all, will the law deal with personal injury claims that arise? The recent ruling is sure to continue to upend state law and traditional definitions of what it means to be a spouse, a personal representative, a survivor, and an injured party for years to come, and even more changes should be expected.

Could You Be Affected?

If you’re injured through someone else’s wrongful conduct, consider seeking out legal advice. At Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian, we’re experienced in handling personal injury cases, including those in which someone lost his or her life. If you’ve been involved in a personal injury claim or have experienced harm at the hands of someone else and would like to discuss possible avenues for relief, contact Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian, Lawyers and Counselors at Law at any of our offices in Tampa, Sarasota, and Land O’Lakes. Call toll-free at 1 (800) 227-2275 for a consultation today.

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