SARAH JERRELS, as personal representative of the Estate of Dylan Jerrels, Appellant,
SABRINA JERRELS, as personal representative of the Estate of Jasper W. Jerrels, Jr.; and SIMONE SINGLETARY KENYON, as personal representative of the Estate of Hue Pham Singletary, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Catherine M.
D. Nowak of McBreen & Nowak, P.A., Tampa; and Tae K.
Bronner of Tae Kelly Bronner, P.L., Tampa, for Appellant.
D. Dickey of The Yerrid Law Firm, Tampa, for Appellee Simone
Singletary Kenyon. No appearance for remaining Appellee.
LAROSE, CHIEF JUDGE.
Jerrels, the personal representative of her son's estate,
appeals the trial court's order limiting the scope of the
wrongful death claim brought on behalf of Dylan Jerrels'
estate against the estate of his father, Jasper W. Jerrels.
We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P.
9.170(b)(18) (authorizing appeals from orders
"determin[ing] a motion or petition to strike an
objection to a claim against an estate"). Because the
trial court erred in limiting Dylan's Estate's
wrongful death claim to the amount of Jasper's insurance
coverage, we reverse.
undisputed facts are tragic. Jasper piloted a private plane
in which his seventeen-year-old son, Dylan, and Jasper's
girlfriend, Hue Pham Singletary, were passengers. The plane
crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing all three.
Jerrels, Jasper's daughter, petitioned for the intestate
administration of Jasper's estate. Dylan's Estate and
Singletary's Estate each filed a Statement of Claim for
wrongful death, asserting that Jasper's negligence caused
the fatal crash.
Estate objected to the claim filed by Dylan's Estate.
Because Dylan was an unemancipated minor at the time of his
death, Singletary's Estate argued that the "claim .
. . [wa]s barred by the doctrine of parental immunity for any
amounts beyond the limits of liability insurance" held
Estate relied on Ard v. Ard, 414 So.2d 1066, 1067
(Fla. 1982) ("While we reaffirm our adherence to
parental/family immunity, we hold that, in a tort action for
negligence arising from an accident and brought by an
unemancipated minor child against a parent, the doctrine of
parental immunity is waived to the extent of the parent's
available liability insurance coverage. If the parent is
without liability insurance, or if the policy contains an
exclusion clause for household or family members, then
parental immunity is not waived and the child cannot sue the
parent."), and Joseph v. Quest, 414 So.2d 1063,
1063 (Fla. 1982) (answering the certified question as to
whether "an action for contribution lies against the
parent of an injured child . . . by holding that contribution
is available against a parent to the extent of existing
liability insurance coverage for the parent's tort
against the child").
trial court agreed with Singletary's Estate based upon
"[a] strict reading of Florida Statute § 768.19,
[Fla. Stat. (2016)]" explaining that "[h]ad Dylan .
. . survived there is no dispute" that Dylan's
recovery would have been limited to Jasper's insurance
policy limits. Thus, although the doctrine of parental
immunity may "no longer exist . . . that [wrongful
death] suit is still limited by . . . . Ard v. Ard
and Joseph v. Quest." Consequently, the trial
court sustained the objection.
Estate counters before us that parental immunity is
inapplicable. Dylan's Estate argues that because both
parties to the immunity are deceased, the public policy
purposes underlying parental immunity disappear. Dylan's
Estate also asserts that, because of the deaths of Dylan and
Jasper, the trial court erred in capping the estate's
claims to the amount of available insurance.
case offers a confounding confluence of competing legal
issues. Because the primary basis for the trial court's
decision turns on its reading of section 768.19, we turn
first to the statute.
Florida Wrongful Death Act
"purpose in construing a statute is to give effect to
legislative intent, which is the polestar that guides the
court in statutory construction." Gomez v. Vill. of
Pinecrest, 41 So.3d 180, 185 (Fla. 2010); see also
Diamond Aircraft Indus., Inc. v. Horowitch, 107 So.3d
362, 367 (Fla. 2013) ("Legislative intent is the
polestar that guides our analysis regarding the construction
and application of the statute." (citing Bautista v.
State, 863 So.2d 1180, 1185 (Fla. 2003))). Thus,
we" 'begin with the actual language used in the
statute' because legislative intent is determined first
and foremost from the statute's text." Raymond
James Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Phillips, 126 So.3d 186, 190
(Fla. 2013) (quoting Heart of Adoptions, Inc. v.
J.A., 963 So.2d 189, 198 (Fla. 2007)). After all,
"[a]n action for wrongful death is a purely statutory
right." Toombs v. Alamo Rent-A-Car, Inc., 833
So.2d 109, 111 (Fla. 2002).
Section 768.19 defines the right of action for wrongful death
When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act,
negligence, default, or breach of contract or warranty of any
person, including those occurring on navigable waters, and
the event would have entitled the person injured to maintain
an action and recover damages if death had not ensued, the
person or watercraft that would have been liable in damages
if death had not ensued shall be liable ...