Accidents happen. Many of them cause injuries such as cuts, bruises, strains, and sprains. Some are more severe, including loss of sight, organ damage, and debilitating spine or brain injuries. Perhaps worst of all is the accident that leads to the death of a parent, sibling, child, or spouse. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT), nearly 15,000 people in the Lone Star State suffered serious injuries in 2018. In that same year, there were 3,652 fatalities. And those only account for motor vehicle accidents. Workplace and industrial accidents, boating and drowning incidents, defective products, among others, are often the cause of wrongful deaths.
While no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, it can bring justice. It can provide funds to pay medical bills and funeral costs, and help a family gain financial security when the tragedy also means the loss of the deceased’s income.
What qualifies as a wrongful death?
Under Texas law, a wrongful death is one caused by “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” For example: a fatal accident caused by a driver who is speeding, tailgating, and/or weaving in and out of traffic, is clearly, at the very least, careless. Beyond the traffic violations, that driver’s reckless behavior makes him or her liable for wrongful death.
If you have lost a loved one in such a manner, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit against a person or entity for “damages.” Damages are the sum of money awarded by the court to a plaintiff (the person who is filing a claim). Typically, compensation covers both expenses incurred as a direct result of the accident as well as losses to survivors caused by the death, including:
- Funeral expenses
- Medical/hospital bills incurred as a result of the accident
- Loss of the decedent’s future wages/earning capacity
- Loss of the decedent’s benefits
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of childcare
- Loss of household services
- Loss of consortium: companionship, love, comfort, and society
In addition to the types of damages listed above, there may be circumstances in which “exemplary” (or “punitive”) damages may be assessed against an at-fault party. This compensation is intended as a punishment for egregious, malicious, grossly reckless, wanton, or violent behavior on the part of the person or entity that caused the fatal accident. (An example might be road rage, in which the offending driver drove aggressively, with the intention of intimidating and deliberately frightening another motorist. If that caused a fatal accident, there may be a strong case to pursue exemplary damages.)
Like other types of personal injury claims, it must be proven that the party who caused the death failed to exercise reasonable care, and may therefore be liable for damages. Moreover, there is a time limit (statute of limitations) by which a wrongful death claim must be filed. This is generally two years unless the plaintiff is a minor, the plaintiff had a mental or physical impairment that prevented them from filing within the legal timeframe, and/or negligence was not known within the two years.
When you’re still grieving, dealing with the courts may not be the first thing on your mind. As personal injury trial attorneys in League City, Texas, we advocate for you and guide you through a complex process during a tough time and fight to get you the highest compensation possible for your loss.
Who can file a claim for wrongful death in Texas?
If your best friend, someone you’ve known since childhood, was killed in an accident in their pickup as a result of a product defect in the tire, you have every right to be angry. But unless you were also married to that person, you don’t have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The law states that the only people who may sue for wrongful death, either separately or jointly, are “statutory beneficiaries,” which include:
- The decedent’s spouse
- The decedent’s children, including legally adopted children
- The decedent’s parents
Siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles may not file a claim. An action may also be taken by the personal representative (sometimes called the executor or executrix) of the estate, who files on behalf of the estate.
How to proceed with a wrongful death claim: what to do and how claims are handled in Texas
Following the death of a beloved spouse, parent, or child, it is hard to think about your rights as a survivor; but there are bills to pay and a life to get on with. By seeking compensation through a wrongful death claim, you are in a better position to do both. Understanding your options and knowing how to approach the claim will make the process less stressful:
- Find an attorney: Filing a claim is a complex legal process. The claim will be defended by an insurance company or corporation. These companies will vigorously defend the claim. To protect your interests, make sure you get legal representation from attorneys with wrongful death claims experience.
- Gather documents and bills: Make copies of every statement you receive from doctors, hospitals, and funeral homes. If it is too painful for you to do it yourself, have somebody you trust help. Keep one set of copies for yourself and another for your lawyer.
- Be prepared to be patient: You will undoubtedly want this whole thing to be over as soon as possible. While it is sometimes possible to reach an agreement even before going to trial, getting you full and fair compensation often takes time. We never drag the case out longer than necessary, but we do make sure that you get all you deserve for your loss.
Whenever a court proceeding is necessary, we are diligent in all phases: from pre-suit investigation and legal research to the trial, and through to the verdict—and a successful outcome for you and your family.
Contact our League City, Texas wrongful death law firm for a compassionate, confidential consultation
To learn more about how we can help you, please call us at 281-645-5000 or contact us online to schedule a time to discuss your case and your needs with one of our skilled and knowledgeable attorneys.