How Texas Wrongful Death Claims Work
A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit that alleges someone died as a result of the negligent or intentionally harmful behavior of a third party. The lawsuit is filed by survivors of the victim and aims to collect damages from those who are legally liable for the death of the victim. A claim of wrongful death is often appropriate if the deceased person would have been able to sue for personal injury had he or she lived.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against a variety of persons and organizations, including company owners, their employees, government agencies, and more. For example, the family members of the deceased may file a lawsuit against:
- An at fault driver or the employer of the driver (if in a company vehicle) in a fatal car accident
- The manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty car part
- A person (or the owner of an establishment) who provided alcohol to an already visibly impaired driver
- A doctor who fails to properly diagnose or treat a disease or condition
Here are a few other examples of situations in which wrongful death claims could be made:
- Chemical spills, explosions, and other industrial accidents
- High-speed car, heavy truck, bus, and train wrecks
- Plane crashes
- Incidents of medical malpractice or negligence
- Instances of death caused by defective products of any kind
While a wrongful death claim can come from almost any personal injury lawsuit, it is important to note that a death as a result of a work-related accident is treated differently. In most cases, deaths under these circumstances must go through the worker’s compensation system.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death lawsuits are brought on by the survivor(s) of a deceased victim. This includes immediate family members (including the spouse or partner), parents of minors, children (both biological and adoptive), and anyone else who can claim financial dependence on the victim.
Typically, distant family members—siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—are not able to sue for wrongful death. A few states do allow this if, for example, a grandparent or aunt and uncle were raising the victim at the time of death. It is also possible for others who have suffered financially as a result of the death of the victim—regardless of relationship—to bring a wrongful death claim.
What Needs to Be Proven?
The survivor(s) bringing the wrongful death claim must be able to prove that the defendant acted negligently or in an intentionally harmful way. Similar to a personal injury case, the survivors must prove that they have been negatively affected and will have issues in the future as a result of the defendant’s actions (or inaction).
Collecting Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
Economic and non-economic are two types of compensatory damages that are generally available to survivors involved in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Economic damages take into account the financial contribution and security that would have been available to survivors had the victim not died. Examples of this could be medical and funeral expenses and the loss of expected earnings such as health insurance, pension benefits, and inheritance.
Non-economic damages, while not necessarily concrete or tangible, can sometimes be more important and valuable than seeking economic damages. Non-economic damages take into consideration the mental anguish (pain and suffering) of the survivors or the loss of care, love, companionship, protection, etc. that would have been provided to the survivor by the victim.
But how are damages calculated? How can anyone assign a numerical value to someone’s life? It can be an extremely complex undertaking to determine an amount for damages. Both the survivors and the defendant(s) will likely use expert witnesses to determine an appropriate and fair amount. Expert witnesses could include economists and actuaries who help calculate the total loss of income or benefits but also place an economic value on care provided in the home, such as child care and household duties like cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
The Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Two statutes of limitations are often applied to wrongful death claims. One statute is the period of time in which the victim could have filed prior to his or her death. For example, if the lawsuit is filed in Texas, the period is (in most cases) two years from the date of the victim’s injury. The other statute is the time limit for the survivors to bring the wrongful death lawsuit, which is typically two years from the date of the victim’s death.
There are different statutes of limitations for different groups of people as well. For example, if you are a minor, if you have a mental disability, or when fraud or intentional harm are done, different statutes could apply.
Statutes of limitations and the groups of people they affect are extremely important and complicated in wrongful death lawsuits. For this reason, it is imperative to contact a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Hossley & Embry: Your Partners in Justice
Unfortunately, bad things can happen to unsuspecting, innocent, and good people—leaving a ripple effect of negative consequences for their loved ones. If you or someone you love has experienced a personal injury or lost a loved one as a result of the negligent or intentionally harmful actions of a third party, please call our office at (866) 522-9265 to set up a free, confidential case evaluation. You can also fill out our convenient online contact form.
Our legal professionals will help you determine your best course of action so you can focus on healing. We have the resources available (including charter aircraft) to travel throughout Texas and the United States on short notice to investigate your potential claim.