The unexpected death of a beloved family member takes a tremendous toll on the entire family. Besides the overwhelming emotional distress, financial and legal matters cost money and time. If the death is caused by a negligent party, you may need to file a wrongful death lawsuit against that person or organization in order to be compensated for your suffering and financial loss. An expert wrongful death attorney may be able to help you recover damages.
Definition of Wrongful Death Cases
Per Texas law, wrongful death is when a person’s death is caused by an injury which itself was caused by another person or entity’s negligence.
When wrongful death occurs, the surviving family members may be entitled to compensation. Someone’s negligence should not cause you financial hardship.
Requirements for Wrongful Death Claims
Much like when someone files a personal injury claim, a wrongful death case can be made for many different reasons. Common claims include car accidents, workplace accidents, defective products, and medical malpractice. However, there are no specific limits on what kinds of incidents can justify a claim.
Instead, the law focuses on the events leading up to the personal injury or wrongful death. Negligence is a requirement for a claim to be admitted in court. An experienced wrongful death lawyer knows the standards for negligence and may be able to prove it in your case. Therefore, having a legal personal representative to advise you through the process is vital.
An Example of Negligence Resulting in Wrongful Death
Car accident cases provide a clear example of how negligence works in a wrongful death claim. Suppose one car is driving according to the law, responsibly and attentively. Another vehicle collides into the first, killing the first car’s driver. This alone is not proof of negligence, even if the latter driver is deemed at fault for the accident. For example, there may have been a mechanical failure or a lack of proper signage or traffic signals.
However, if evidence shows that the second driver was intoxicated or using their cell phone when the accident occurred, then there is clearly negligent behavior. Such a case could qualify for a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit, and When?
Texas law specifies the family members and other parties who can file wrongful death claims.
A wrongful death statute in Texas, called the Texas Wrongful Death Act, states that immediate family members may file after a loved one’s death, including the surviving parents, children, or spouse of the deceased person. The surviving spouse, for example, may sue for wrongful death in order to recover compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and funeral and burial expenses of their deceased spouse.
The immediate family members do not have to be in unanimous agreement about filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased person’s spouse chooses not to file a wrongful death claim, their children could still do so. However, any lawsuit brought forward is done so “for the benefit of all.” All immediate family members would be entitled to a share of any compensation received.
If the spouse, children, or parents do not make a wrongful death claim within three months of the victim’s death, an executor, or administrator, of the deceased person’s estate may make the claim. If the victim’s will does not name a personal representative to act as executor, the court appoints one.
The executor may not file a wrongful death case if the immediate family members named above specifically request they do not do so.
More distant family members and other loved ones are not allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Likewise, close friends or the deceased person’s employer are prohibited from filing a wrongful death lawsuit. This is to prevent others from capitalizing on a tragic situation and potentially taking compensation away from the immediate family who has been most affected.
Statute of Limitations on a Wrongful Death Claim
Per Texas state laws, the wrongful death statute of limitations, meaning how long you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit, is two years from the death of the deceased person.
Because surviving family members have only two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s important for the surviving spouse or other eligible family member, or for the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, to sue for wrongful death in a timely manner. Contact a skilled attorney for guidance as soon as you possibly can.
Proving Wrongful Death Actions in a Lawsuit
Wrongful death depends on several factors. Negligence is the primary factor that must be demonstrated for a wrongful death lawsuit to succeed. In most personal injury cases, there must also be evidence of financial damages. However, in the case of a wrongful death claim, the death of the person is evidence enough.
An attorney must then focus on proving causation in addition to another person’s negligence. In other words, the negligent actions of the party accused must have also been the cause of the wrongful death. When these conditions are met, the other party may be held liable for all damages.
Wrongful death lawsuits hinge on proving negligence. In a wrongful death case, an attorney seeks to prove negligent behavior. If you approach a lawyer about a wrongful death suit, provide any evidence you can. For instance, if a person dies while under medical care, you may need to bring another medical professional’s statement claiming that hospital staff failed to follow proper procedure.
Similarly, to prove wrongful death in a car accident, dashcam footage could show evidence of another person’s negligence on the road. A construction company could be found negligent if they failed to put up signs warning passersby about danger. Speak to an experienced attorney and bring whatever evidence you have. Attorneys usually can subpoena individuals and organizations for more information, such as another driver’s phone records for automobile accidents or medical records for medical malpractice cases.
Numerous factors can play into the cause of a death. In a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s necessary to prove that the victim’s death was the direct result of the defendant’s actions.
A skilled wrongful death attorney on the defense may try to argue that there were other causes contributing to the decedent’s death. Provide your lawyer with health records of the deceased person, along with any other documents you may have to show that it is unlikely that anything else caused your loved one’s death besides the actions of the defendant.
Claiming Your Damages
Wrongful death damages are essentially a certainty. However, when you file a claim, you must show evidence for these damages in order to request a specific amount of compensation. Consider funeral expenses, medical expenses, lost wages because the victim can no longer provide financial support, lost prospect of an inheritance, and attorney fees.
Damages may be non-financial, as well. Post-accident pain and suffering that the victim experiences before their death may be claimed. Lost companionship due to someone else’s negligence may result in a damage award. Your attorney may recommend an amount to request based on their previous experience and the likelihood of success in your case.
How Much Compensation Can I Receive If I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The amount of financial compensation for a successful wrongful death lawsuit varies widely according to the circumstances and outcome of the case. It’s critical when considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit to request a free consultation with an experienced wrongful death lawsuit attorney.
Two types of wrongful death compensation that may be awarded fall under the categories of pecuniary injuries (economic damages) and punitive damages. In general, you may receive the full amount of your economic damages, while punitive damage is subject to the court’s discretion.
Pecuniary Awards or Economic Damages
These are all the quantifiable damages that can be demonstrated with receipts and other documents. Medical bills, insurance payments, lost wages, and legal fees can all qualify. Be sure to document these expenses related to your family member’s death and show them to a lawyer.
When you sue for wrongful death, your lawyer will add up these amounts and claim them in the lawsuit so that you can try to recover compensation in full.
The court could rule for additional damages as a way to “make an example” of the person directly responsible for the death in question. Sometimes this extra amount is awarded to the state or is split between the state and the family that filed the wrongful death action on behalf of the deceased.
Get Legal Help After a Wrongful Death
Wrongful death cases and the laws that apply to them are complex. As a surviving spouse or other family member of the deceased person, you are likely to be overwhelmed emotionally and financially. Given the complexities of the legal system, you may not know which steps to take next. That is what legal representation is for. A lawyer can generally help you seek justice for wrongful deaths.
If you suspect a loved one has been the victim of a wrongful death, contact the experts today at Houston Injury Lawyers, PLLC at 936-251-5246. We’re the attorneys who will fight to make it right.