Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through in life, especially when the person's death comes suddenly or happens due to someone else's negligence. In addition to feelings of sorrow and mourning, you have to deal with the anger and frustration that may result from a wrongful death action.
Although nothing can bring your loved one back, the law can help you get a sense of justice and closure in such cases. Here's everything you need to know about wrongful death laws in Texas, who can sue for wrongful death, and how wrongful death attorneys can help you file a claim..
What is Wrongful Death?
According to Texas Statutes section 71.001, wrongful death is defined as a death caused when one party acts wrongfully out of neglect, unskillfulness, or carelessness, which results in the death of another party.
When someone passes away due to the misconduct or negligence of another party, the person's family members can sue the party who caused the person's death. A wrongful death lawsuit is an attempt on the survivors' part to hold the party responsible for their loved one's sudden demise accountable for the negligence, carelessness, or misconduct that caused the death.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed for various reasons, such as medical errors, drunk drivers, defective products, stray gunshots, and more. In any case, the plaintiff needs to prove that the death was caused due to the wrongful or negligent conduct of a party.
The most common incidents that result in wrongful death include:
- Equipment failure
- Construction accidents
- Criminal acts
- Dangerous chemicals
- Car accidents
It's important to note that there's another type of claim similar to a wrongful death claim under Texas law, which is called a survival claim. While a wrongful death claim deals with family members seeking compensation for loss of companionship, financial support, and similar items, a survival claim is more similar to a personal injury lawsuit. In a survival claim, the deceased party's estate seeks compensation for the deceased person's losses, such as medical expenses or pain and suffering damages.
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death?
Under Texas law, the deceased's biological parent, spouse, or children are allowed to file a wrongful death claim. This includes adoptive parents as well as adopted children. The law doesn't require a specific family member to file, as long as they are one of the people listed above. It's also permissible for the members of the family to file a wrongful death claim jointly.
In the event of the loss of life due to wrongful death, the family members have three months to take legal action before the executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate is allowed to file a claim on the estate's behalf if no family members have filed one. However, in such cases, any of the eligible family members have the right to block the estate from filing a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim must be filed directly by the surviving family members or personal representative. Liability in such cases is solely expressed in terms of money damages. There is no criminal charge filed for imprisonment, fines, probation, or other penalties. However, a wrongful death claim can be filed in conjunction with criminal charges connected with the death.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim in Texas is made to compensate the surviving family members or those of the deceased's estate for monetary losses that resulted from the victim's untimely death. The monetary damages that people seek to recover in a wrongful death claim may include:
- Lost earning capacity
- Bills from medical treatment
- Funeral expenses and burial costs
- Lost inheritance amounting to what the deceased person would have likely saved and left during a regularly expected lifetime for their surviving family members
- Lost care, services, maintenance, support, counsel, and advice the deceased would have provided for their surviving family members
- Lost comfort, companionship, love, and society
- Mental and emotional anguish
- Pain and suffering
When a wrongful death claim is won, the recovery of damages are awarded and proportionately divided amongst the deceased's surviving family members. The court will analyze the situation and determine the proportions according to what they deem to be fair.
In addition to the standard damages listed above, there are also exemplary damages in some cases. Such non-economic damages may be recovered when the wrongful death was caused by gross negligence, a willful act, or omission. In some jurisdictions, exemplary damages may also be referred to as punitive damages.
Unlike recovering common damages in a wrongful death suit, the purpose of seeking exemplary damages is to punish the wrongdoer by sending a message to say that their grossly negligent or willful behavior won't be tolerated.
Time Limits to File a Wrongful Death Law Suit in Texas
There's a specific wrongful death statute of limitations for the filing a lawsuit in Texas. According to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 16.003, a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas must be filed within two years of the exact date that the victim passed away. Under very narrow circumstances, this time limit may be extended.
If your statute of limitations is running out or if the two-year deadline has passed, you can speak with an experienced Texas wrongful death lawyer to learn more about the extenuating details in the statute of limitations.. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer that specializes in wrongful death claims may be able to help you file a claim even if the deadline has passed..
How Long Does it Take for a Wrongful Death Claim to Settle?
The wrongful death claims process is highly complicated. You will need an experienced attorney to handle your case, which may take years to settle, even with an expert lawyer. The average wrongful death claim takes between one and four years to settle but can take even longer than that. In some cases, if the insurance company is mistreating you, if they offer a low settlement and you accept, or if the claim involves minors, it can take a few weeks to a few months just to file a petition.
While the process may take longer to settle, you shouldn't take the insurance company's initial offer in most cases. Insurance companies are infamous for offering much lower settlements than what the claimant deserves, especially in personal injury and wrongful death cases. An experienced attorney can analyze your situation and fight to get you and your family the settlement you deserve.
If you need to file a wrongful death claim for someone you knew, you don't have to go through the process alone. Grieving is difficult enough – leave the complicated legal matters in capable hands by contacting Glenn Law. With over 38 years of experience, our law firm will stop at nothing to get you the justice and closure you deserve. Contact us for a free case review.