Losing a loved one is heartbreaking and can be even more devastating when someone is killed because of another party’s negligence. When you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, filing a wrongful death claim may be the last thing on your mind. However, it’s important to know that a Texas wrongful death lawyer may help you find recourse and hold responsible parties accountable.
Wrongful Death in Texas
Texas law defines wrongful death as a death caused by the “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default” of another person or entity. This means that whether intentional or unintentional, if someone else’s negligence caused the death of another, they may be liable for damages.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Parties who are entitled to file a wrongful death action vary from state to state. In Texas, the surviving spouse, children and parents of a deceased person may file a wrongful death claim. A child who is legally adopted may file a claim for the death of a parent, and vice versa. However, an adopted child may not file a wrongful death claim for the death of a biological parent. Texas does not allow siblings to file a wrongful death claim for the loss of a brother or sister.
Each individual may file a single claim, or they may file an action together. If a wrongful death claim isn’t filed within three months of the date of a person’s death, the executor or personal representative of their estate may file a claim instead. In some cases, if a surviving family member does not want a wrongful death claim to be filed, the executor may not proceed with the action.
What If the Defendant Was Criminally Charged for a Wrongful Death?
If you are a surviving family member or an administrator of a deceased person’s estate, you can file a wrongful death claim even if the negligent party has been criminally charged for the death. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action, but evidence from a criminal investigation and trial can be used to prove fault in a wrongful death claim.
What Is My Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
It’s challenging to put a dollar amount on a wrongful death claim without the assistance of a seasoned personal injury attorney. Each case is different, so having a lawyer who is experienced in handling these types of claims is critical. Several factors are taken into account when determining the amount of wrongful death damages, including:
- The victim’s age
- The victim’s future earning capacity
- How the victim’s death occurred
- Insurance policy limits of the negligent party
- Other factors specific to the case
Wrongful death attorneys are well-versed in accurately calculating damages. They often work with experts like forensic accountants to determine how much a victim may have earned over the course of their lifetime. They are also adept at demonstrating the pain and loss that a loved one’s death has caused a family. Although no amount of money can change what happened, having a knowledgeable attorney handle your case can help to ensure you recover the maximum compensation you deserve to make things right for your loved one and your family.
Types of Damages in a Texas Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death damages compensate a deceased person’s loved ones or estate for losses they’ve suffered due to the death. Damages in a Texas wrongful death action may include:
- Lost earning capacity: the amount a wrongful death victim could have earned throughout their lifetime had they not passed away
- Lost care, support, advice, counsel, maintenance and services the victim would have given their surviving loved ones
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Lost companionship, comfort, love and society
- Lost inheritance, which includes any assets the victim would likely have left to loved ones had they lived a normal life expectancy
What Are Exemplary Damages?
Commonly known as punitive damages, exemplary damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter them and others from committing similar acts. They are only awarded if the wrongdoer was grossly negligent or committed a willfully harmful act that caused the death.
Unlike compensatory damages which compensate a victim’s family for their losses, exemplary damages are awarded to demonstrate that outrageous or malevolent behavior won’t be tolerated.
An award of exemplary damages is distributed among surviving family members in proportion to the losses they suffered as a result of the death. There is a cap on exemplary damages in Texas. They may not exceed $200,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount of non-economic damages like pain and suffering, up to $750,000. Exemplary damage caps may be waived in some cases, such as those involving drunk driving accidents.
What Is a Survival Action?
A survival action enables the heirs, legal representative or estate of a victim to bring a personal injury claim on behalf of the deceased as if they were still alive. Some damages that may be awarded in a survival claim include the deceased person’s accident-related medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, property damage and lost income due to injuries prior to the person’s death.
Statutes of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas
If you believe you may have a wrongful death case, it’s important to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Texas law requires a wrongful death claim to be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person’s passing. However, there are very narrow exceptions to this time limit. If the statute of limitations has passed, your wrongful death lawyer can determine whether any of these exceptions apply.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim If a Loved One Died Due to Medical Malpractice?
Yes. When a wrongful death occurs as a result of a health care provider’s negligence, misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose or other carelessness, their loved ones may be entitled to compensation. In these cases, it’s vital to find a skilled Texas medical malpractice attorney with a track record of success in going up against large health systems and insurance companies.
Do Wrongful Death Lawyers Work on Contingency?
Personal injury and wrongful death attorneys typically offer a free initial case evaluation and work on contingency. This means you won’t incur any up-front costs or owe attorney fees unless they recover compensation in your case. Whether they decide to take your case or not, a good wrongful death lawyer will give you a frank assessment of your claim, which can help you make informed decisions about the potential options you may have.
How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help
Grieving and healing from the loss of a loved one takes time and can be a very difficult process. An attorney can take some of the weight off your shoulders by providing compassionate legal support. Wrongful death cases are complex and must be thoroughly investigated. Proving fault is also tough if you are unfamiliar with Texas law and the way wrongful death claims work. Your legal team is there to handle all negotiations with insurance companies and to prepare your case if it needs to go to trial. They will fight tirelessly on your behalf to find the justice and compensation you and your loved ones deserve.
If you think you may have a wrongful death claim, the team at Leinart Law can help. For a free case evaluation, please call us at 469-232-3328 in Dallas and 817-426-3328 in Fort Worth, fill out the contact form on our website, use our convenient chat feature or email us today. Our wrongful death lawyers are proud to serve clients throughout North Texas.