The ripple effect in Florida wrongful death claims 


By: Kyle M. Ridgeway

The Florida Supreme Court issued a significant ruling on May 9, 2024, in Ripple v. CBS Corporation, et al., No. SC2022-0597, 2024 WL 2066708 (Fla. 2024). The Court unanimously decided that a spouse who marries someone after they have been injured can claim damages as a “surviving spouse” under the Florida Wrongful Death Act. This decision rejected the common law principle of “marriage before injury” that historically held that only spouses married before the subject injury could make wrongful death claims. This ruling resolved a split between District Courts of Appeal decisions in Florida.  

In the underlying case, decedent Richard Counter had filed a personal injury complaint against multiple defendants before his death based on common law negligence and strict liability related to asbestos exposure. Jennifer Ripple married decedent Counter shortly after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and before he passed away, but after his exposure to asbestos. Counter’s estate amended the complaint and replaced the common law personal injury claims with wrongful death claims under the Florida Wrongful Death Act.  

Initially, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled against Ripple, stating that because she married her husband after his asbestos exposure injury, she could not recover damages as a surviving spouse under the Act. However, this decision conflicted with another appellate court ruling from the Fifth District Court of Appeal, leading Ripple to seek review from the Supreme Court of Florida. The Court unanimously affirmed Ripple’s right to seek damages as a “surviving spouse” under section the Florida Wrongful Death Act, despite marrying the decedent after his injury.  

Importantly, the Court left the door open for a jury to decide that the surviving spouse’s conduct constituted an attempt to marry into a wrongful death claim. The Court stated, “Nothing in our decision today prevents juries from considering the timing and duration of a couple’s marriage when evaluating a claim for damages under [the Florida Wrongful Death Act].” Id. at 19.  

This decision will impact future wrongful death claims by a surviving spouse, particularly in cases involving toxic torts or allegations of latent diseases or injuries.  

For more information, please contact Kyle M. Ridgeway at or your local FMG attorney.