May 28, 2024

Wedding Season Begins with a Ripple

May marks the start of peak wedding season, and this year, the Florida Supreme Court has presented a macabre gift to newlyweds.  

On May 9, 2024, the Court decided Ripple v. CBS Corporation, et al., No. SC2022-0597, 2024 WL 2066708 (Fla. May 9, 2024), where it pronounced that surviving spouses who “marry into a claim” have standing to seek relief under the Wrongful Death Act. 

Saying ‘I Do’ Means ‘Till Death Till I Sue’ 

The Ripple case revolved around a petitioner-bride who openly admitted during discovery that her marriage was motivated by “legal reasons.” She had lived with the decedent for decades, was aware of his imminent death, and chose to marry him with the intention of benefiting from the Wrongful Death Act. 

Under Section 768.21(2) of the Wrongful Death Act, surviving spouses can “recover for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection” and for “mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.”  The text of the statute appears to apply to all spouses regardless of whether the terminal injury preceded the marriage.  

However, under the common law, a surviving spouse could not “marry into a claim.”  

The ruling in Ripple highlights an anomaly in the law.  

No loss-of-consortium claim lies for the partner of an injured party unless they were married on the date of the injury. The petitioner-bride in Ripple had no claim if her husband survived his pre-marital injury.  

The clarification of the reach of the Wrongful Death Act to include those who “marry into claims” produces anomalous results.  Imagine that a couple gets engaged, and then a life-changing injury occurs. Then imagine that the couple marries despite the injury and thereafter spends a lifetime coping with it. In such a case, the spouse’s loss of companionship, protection, and “pain and suffering” is just as real as a spouse who only marries because of an injury believed to be terminal. Society likely would celebrate one spouse as noble and lament the other as opportunistic. 

How Far Will the Ripple Go? 

The Florida Supreme Court stated in its opinion that a jury can properly consider the “timing and duration” of a marriage, including “whether a spouse’s conduct amounts to an attempt to marry into a Section 768.21(2) claim.” This may sound like a silver lining for defendants in wrongful death actions, but from a practical standpoint, how to defend “marriage after injury” cases may require years for the courts to sort out. 

Imagine a scenario where the deceased was both a heavy smoker and a habitual cheater for years before being diagnosed with lung cancer. Now, consider that the surviving spouse admits they knew about the infidelity and wanted to leave, and also knew that smoking would eventually kill their partner.  

The Ripple court has opened up the question: Can a jury look into why the marriage happened in the first place, even if that reason seems unrelated to the surviving spouse’s pain and suffering? This raises the intriguing possibility that the motive for marriage might be scrutinized separately from the actual emotional and mental impact on the surviving spouse. Jury instructions distinguishing the issue may be ignored by jurors. 

What about the obligation to mitigate? Could a surviving spouse be considered at fault for not ending the relationship before getting married, especially if they knew their partner’s risky behavior, like smoking, was likely to lead to death? What about situations where the spouse was aware of infidelity or other good cause to end a relationship? Can a jury determine, by the greater weight of the evidence, that a surviving spouse should have dropped the decedent prior to marriage? Will juries be harsh on defendants who try to argue these points?  

Further, how will courts handle investigations into the couple’s relationship before marriage? Privacy, privilege, and practical considerations could all come into play. 

The Ripple case has certainly introduced complex issues that courts and juries will need to navigate carefully. 


Much like the creation of the Universe, the institution of marriage has sparked much debate and dissatisfaction. For attorneys and insurance professionals, however, Ripple just means more work—for better or for worse. 

How Can I Help?  

It is crucial to stay informed about Ripple’s evolving impact on wrongful death claims. A focus of my practice is defending businesses and individuals against novel and/or high stakes claims for wrongful death. A “marriage after injury” wrongful death claim certainly qualifies. If you have questions, I encourage you to reach out.  

Contact me, Matthew Garnett, for more information about Ripple or to discuss how I defend these claims. Let’s tackle these challenges together and ensure the best possible outcomes. 

Matthew S. Garnett, Esq.
Partner / Business Unit Leader, General Liability & Third-Party Insurance Defense
Kelley Kronenberg-Tampa, FL
(813) 223-1697