If you lose a loved one in an accident based upon someone else’s negligence, you may be considering a wrongful death lawsuit. If you have lost a loved one and you are thinking about pursuing a wrongful death claim, there are some important things to know before proceeding.
The Texas Definition of Wrongful Death
Wrongful death in Texas is defined under Chapter 71 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Wrongful death claims can be filed by certain individuals if the death is caused by the wrongful action, carelessness, unskillfulness, neglect or default of another person or entity. Such situations include when a loved one has died due to the negligence of another person, such as in a drunk driving accident, distracted driving collision or big rig crash; when a doctor or other healthcare provider has committed malpractice resulting in a death; or when a defective product, explosion or some other type of catastrophic error was the result of a company’s negligence. If this is the case, the state allows certain parties to bring the wrongful death action.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
In Texas, a wrongful death action can be filed by certain members of the deceased’s family. They include the spouse, the children, and the parents of the deceased. In some cases, an adopted child may file the claim if the adoption was legal and fully completed. Adoptive parents also have legal standing to file a wrongful death claim for their adopted child. These claims can be filed as one action, or the members of the family can join to file a joint claim.
No Claims Allowed for Siblings
Under Texas law, the surviving siblings of the deceased, whether they were adopted or biological, are not eligible to file a wrongful death claim. The claim has to be filed by one or more of the individuals described above; if the claim is filed by a group, it cannot include siblings.
Types of Damages Allowed
Damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death claim are meant to compensate family members for losses they experience when they lose a loved one. The types of damages awarded vary and typically depend on the relationship of the survivor to the victim. The most common damages are lost earning capacity; mental anguish; loss of inheritance, household services, support, guidance, care and counsel; and lost love or companionship. In situations where the act was done in a willful manner or from gross negligence, the family may be able to recover punitive damages as well. These damages are intended to punish the defendant and to send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated and must not occur again.
Under Chapter 71, Texas law also permits the estate of the deceased to make a claim for damages. Called “survival damages,” these are damages that the deceased would have been able to recover had they not passed away, like compensation for physical pain and suffering, as well as mental anguish. An action for survival damages could be filed, for example, when a company’s negligence results in an explosion which causes a victim’s agonizing death by burning, or when a collision caused by a truck driver results in severe injuries which lead to prolonged pain and eventual death. Survival damages may also include recovery of compensation for mental anguish and pain the deceased suffered and would have been able to sue for if he had lived. The medical expenses incurred in trying to save the victim’s life, which could be substantial, are considered to be debts of the estate and are recoverable, as are burial expenses.
To prevail in a Texas wrongful death lawsuit, negligence is the main legal element that must be proven. When a person or entity is negligent, it means they did or did not do something they should have done. There are four elements that your wrongful death attorney must prove:
- A legal duty was owed to the deceased. For example, all drivers have a legal duty to drive without being intoxicated and endangering other drivers.
- The legal duty was breached. A drunk driver breached this duty by getting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
- The breach of duty caused an injury. The breach of duty led to the serious injuries and death of your loved one.
- Monetary damages were incurred. These could be medical bills, surgeries, burial expenses, loss of work and pain and suffering.
Statute of Limitations in Texas
In Texas, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the death of the decedent. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare; families are wise to seek the assistance of a wrongful death lawyer well before the expiration of the two-year deadline. This allows for a full investigation and preparation of a strong case on behalf of the family and/or estate of one whose death occurred at the hands of a negligent person or entity.
When someone you love is killed because of the negligence of another person, it can be a devastating and scary time. It can be difficult to know what to do or who to turn to. Please remember that if the accident was caused by the negligence of someone else, you do have legal rights. You may be entitled to compensation not only for your pain and suffering. but also for the pain and suffering that your loved one suffered and their medical and burial costs. Most wrongful death attorneys in Texas will evaluate your case at no charge to determine whether there is a strong chance of winning the case, so you have nothing to lose by at least having an attorney look at your situation.