Q. What is a wrongful death?
A: In the state of Texas, when a person dies because of another person’s misconduct or negligence, the surviving members of the victim’s family may file a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. Wrongful death lawsuits may also be filed when a homicide was intentional, and may be pursued without regard to any separate criminal procedure or its outcome. While no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, a favorable wrongful death settlement or judgment has helped many families in the state of Texas move forward without additional financial hardship after a tragedy.
Q: What is a wrongful death claim in the state of Texas?
A: Wrongful death claims in the state of Texas are addressed by the Texas Wrongful Death Act, which gives spouses, parents, and children, including the adult children of a wrongful death victim, legal standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for damages resulting from the wrongful death. Grandchildren and siblings are not given legal standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit under the Texas Wrongful Death Act.
A wrongful death can happen in a traffic accident when another driver is drunk or distracted, as the result of using a defective consumer product, in an incident of nursing home neglect or medical malpractice, in an unlocked or unguarded swimming pool, and in almost any other conceivable circumstance where one person’s negligence directly contributes to another person’s accidental or even intentional death.
However, in the state of Texas, no matter how a wrongful death occurs, if another person’s negligence is responsible for that death, the negligent person may be held accountable through a wrongful death lawsuit. A Texas wrongful death attorney will work for the long-term best interests of surviving family members. Some families may swiftly face genuine financial hardship without their deceased loved one’s earnings and benefits.
Q: What does a wrongful death claim require a surviving family member to prove?
A: For a wrongful death claim to prevail in the state of Texas, a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the wrongful death victim must prove – with an attorney’s help – that a defendant’s negligent or intentional action (or inaction) directly caused the victim’s wrongful death, and that the victim’s wrongful death has caused demonstrable harm to the surviving family member or members.
Q: What kind of compensation can be awarded to surviving family members?
A: Under Texas law, surviving family members may be able to recover what are known as “actual” damages as well as “exemplary” damages. Actual damages may include compensation for all financial losses arising from a wrongful death including final medical bills, funeral expenses, and related costs. If the wrongful death victim worked to support or contribute to the family household, surviving family members may also claim the loss of projected future earnings.
Additional actual damages may also include compensation for the family’s pain and suffering, mental anguish, and the permanent loss of companionship, consortium, and inheritance. “Exemplary” damages may also be awarded to surviving family members in the state of Texas when the victim’s death was caused by a defendant’s intentional action, omission, or gross negligence.
Q: How do “survival” claims differ from wrongful death actions?
A: The Texas Survival Statute allows for a slightly different legal procedure. Under the Survival Statute, the deceased victim’s estate or heir may bring the equivalent of a personal injury lawsuit, essentially the same claim that the victim would or could have pursued if that victim had survived. However, under the Texas Wrongful Death Act, a wrongful death claim belongs exclusively to the victim’s spouse, children, and/or parents.
Q: Is there a statute of limitation for wrongful death claims in Texas?
A: When a family loses a loved one in an accident as the result of someone else’s negligent, reckless, or careless action or inaction, that family faces egregiously difficult emotional and legal concerns all at once. It may be tough to do, but surviving family members must file a wrongful death claim as quickly as possible. The statute of limitation in the state of Texas for a wrongful death claim is almost always two years from the date of the family member’s wrongful death unless one of the several clearly-defined exceptions applies.
However, families considering a wrongful death claim in Texas really must not wait two years to consult with an experienced Texas wrongful death attorney. Evidence deteriorates, as do the memories of witnesses, so it is absolutely imperative to discuss rights and options with a knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible after a wrongful death. As difficult as it may be for family members at a time of immeasurable grief and mourning, it is nevertheless critical to have an experienced wrongful death attorney evaluate the case and begin an investigation at once.
Q: Other than biological parents, who is defined as a parent by the Texas Wrongful Death Act?
A: Under Texas law, a parent by adoption may file a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a legally adopted son or daughter, but stepparents, foster parents, and grandparents have no legal standing to bring a wrongful death action. Divorced parents, however, can bring a joint lawsuit for the wrongful death of their child in Texas.
Q: What does it cost to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit?
A: Most of the attorneys who advocate for families in wrongful death cases represent their clients on a contingency fee basis. That way, the lawyer only gets paid – typically a percentage of the settlement or judgment – if the wrongful death lawsuit prevails. That percentage and any additional costs or expenses should be spelled out clearly in a written agreement when an attorney agrees to represent the surviving family member or members.
Of course, in today’s world, dangers are almost everywhere. A drive to the supermarket, a routine medical procedure, even dining out could lead to a fatal traffic accident, a medical malpractice catastrophe, or a food poisoning death. However, no event is more shattering than abruptly and suddenly losing a loved one because someone else was negligent. In the state of Texas, the Texas Wrongful Death Act ensures that surviving family members have the chance to seek the justice they and their loved ones deserve.