In Texas, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by various people, depending on the circumstances of the case. Generally, the spouse or children of the deceased person can file a lawsuit. In some cases, parents or grandparents may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The estate executor may file a wrongful death lawsuit if the deceased person was unmarried and had no children. In this post, we will have a deeper discussion about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas and other issues related to such matters.
What Is Considered a Wrongful Death in Texas?
In Texas, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by several people, including the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents. Wrongful death occurs due to another entity’s negligence or wrongful act. It’s also a death that could have been prevented if not for someone else’s careless behavior.
If you have lost a loved one due to negligence here in Houston, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas. In Texas, a wrongful death occurs when:
- An injury causes a person’s death or to not be born alive.
- Someone’s wrongful act or negligence causes the death, and survivors of the deceased person suffer damages due to the death.
- The injured person would have been entitled to a personal injury settlement had they lived.
What Events Can Result in a Wrongful Death?
We’ve already established that wrongful death is a type of personal injury claim. However, what wrongful events can cause death? In Texas, the following fatal events may warrant the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: Car, motorcycle, and truck crashes are the leading causes of wrongful death, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If you have lost a loved one in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Medical Malpractice: If your loved one died due to a doctor’s or hospital’s negligence, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Every year, approximately 98,000 people lose their lives to medical errors; however, that same Yale School of Medicine study suggests that the number is much higher at around 250,000.
- Workplace Accidents: If your loved one was killed while on the job in Houston or elsewhere in Texas, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against their employer. Workplace accidents can occur for several reasons, including unsafe work conditions, defective equipment, or employer negligence.
- Intentional Acts: If your loved one was killed due to someone else’s deliberate actions, such as a crime, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas?
In Texas, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by various people, depending on the circumstances of the case. One or more of these individuals can file a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The deceased person’s surviving spouse
- The deceased’s surviving children
- The parents of a decedent child (this includes divorced and adoptive parents)
- The personal representative of the person’s estate or the executor
In some cases, grandparents or other family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Although aunts, uncles, and siblings may also file lawsuits under certain circumstances in other states, Texas law explicitly states that remote relatives like these cannot file a wrongful death claim here in our jurisdiction.
Is a Wrongful Death Different From a Homicide?
One of the key differences between a wrongful death case and a criminal homicide charge is that the defendant’s liability is restricted to financial damages paid to the deceased person’s survivors in a successful wrongful death suit. Criminal charges like homicide carry penalties such as potential jail time or probation instead of only fines (as is the case in a civil case).
The most significant difference between a criminal homicide case and a civil wrongful death lawsuit is that the government needs to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in the former. However, in a civil case, the plaintiff only has to show that it’s more likely than not that the defendant caused said death.
In the worst-case scenario, one event may lead to criminal charges and a civil lawsuit for wrongful death: A person may be sued for intentional or negligent death in civil court while being charged with criminal misconduct connected to the same Houston death.
What Damages Can Plaintiffs Claim in Their Lawsuit?
The damages that the court can award in a wrongful death lawsuit will depend on the facts of each case. In general, wrongful death damages are either economic or noneconomic. If a Texas jury favors the plaintiff in a lawsuit, damages are awarded for their losses from the death.
Families may be compensated for:
- Losses of companionship, comfort, and society
- Mental pain and anguish experienced by the surviving family
- Lost inheritance, including what the deceased would have saved and left to the surviving family members if they had lived
- Lost earning capacity
- Lost care, maintenance, services, support, advice, and counsel the deceased would have provided in support of their family members
Are Punitive Damages a Possibility in a Wrongful Death Case?
Under Texas law, punitive damages are possible in a wrongful death claim, but they may only be awarded if the death was caused by a willful act, omission, or gross negligence. Exemplary damages serve two purposes: to punish the wrongdoer and to discourage others from engaging in the same conduct.
Is There a Statute of Limitations in Texas for a Wrongful Death Claim?
Yes, in Texas, the statute of limitations for wrongful death is two years from the date of death; in other words, the date that your legal action arises. To further clarify, the statute of limitations often doesn’t begin when the accident occurs but when your family member dies as a direct result of the injuries they sustained.
Furthermore, the statute of limitations may not begin immediately due to other factors that force a delay or tolling of the statute. The statute may be tolled when:
- The negligence was not immediately apparent: An example of this may be if the death was caused by long-term exposure to a toxic substance even though you weren’t aware of the issue.
- The victim was a minor: In this case, the statute of limitations may not begin until the victim turns 18. This type of tolled statute of limitations is unique because family members can file a wrongful death claim while you are still a minor.
- The victim was mentally incapacitated: If the victim could not understand their injuries or wrongful death, the statute of limitations might not begin until they regain capacity or someone else pursues the lawsuit on their behalf.
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or a wrongful act, you may feel overwhelmed and confused about what to do next. Personal injury attorneys in Texas are here to help you understand your options and take the next critical steps.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer like ours at The Mejia Law Firm will investigate the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death, help you identify all liable parties, and collect evidence to support your claim. We will also negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf and fight for the maximum compensation you deserve. Contact our Houston firm to schedule a free initial consultation to see if you have a valid wrongful death claim.
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