The time after a loved one passes is often filled with sadness, anger, grief, and frustration. If they passed due to the negligence, carelessness, or wrongful act of another person and/or a business, their death can be considered a “wrongful death” in Texas. While it may not be the first thing a family thinks about after their loved one’s death, Texas law imposes a time limit – called a statute of limitations – within which a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed before time runs out. If a wrongful death case is not filed in time, it can be immediately dismissed in court and you will not be able to recover financial compensation.
Texas not only has limitations on how long you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit – it also specifically limits who is even eligible to file a claim. A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person’s death with very few exceptions. The deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and parents are the only parties legally eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Any of them can file the claim alone, or they can file as a group. If the claim is not filed by the surviving spouse, children, or parents within three months of the date of death, the executor or personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file the claim instead, unless requested not to by a surviving family member. Children who have been adopted in Texas can file a wrongful death claim if they were fully and legally adopted by that person; however, an adopted child cannot file a claim for the wrongful death of a biological parent. Similarly, adoptive parents are able to file a wrongful death claim for an adopted child who has passed. Texas law does not allow surviving siblings to file a wrongful death claim for a brother or sister, no matter if they are biological or adopted.
Common situations giving rise to a death claim include:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: Fatal motor vehicle crashes caused by reckless, distracted, and/or drunk drivers are all too common and lead to the wrongful death of thousands of Texans each year.
- Medical Malpractice: Doctors have a duty of care they must uphold when treating patients. If a doctor is negligent and their failure to adhere to the standard of care required causes a patient to die, they can be sued for wrongful death. Common types of medical malpractice include misdiagnosis, delayed or incorrect treatment, and failure to diagnose.
- Workplace Accidents: All employees have the right to a safe work environment. If an employee is killed due to workplace hazards or negligence, their family may be able to file a wrongful death claim.
- Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents: With major cities encouraging Texans to walk and bike more, bicyclist and pedestrian accident fatalities have risen. Bicyclists and pedestrians have little to no protection from the road or the vehicles driving on it; and, if involved in an accident with a motor vehicle, bicyclists and pedestrians are more likely to be killed.
- Defective Products: The majority of manufacturers take steps to ensure their products are safe for public use or consumption; however, thousands of products each year are found to be defective and must be recalled. Many of these defective products lead to consumer death.
Elements of a Texas Wrongful Death Lawsuit
When a surviving family member files a wrongful death claim in Texas, they have to prove their loved one was killed because of negligence or a wrongful act. For example, if the deceased went in to the doctor’s office for a minor surgical procedure and was given the incorrect type and/or dose of anesthesia and it led to their death, their surviving family must prove the anesthesiologist acted negligently in their duty of care. If the deceased was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, surviving family members must prove the driver that caused the accident was driving negligently.
Damages in Texas wrongful death claims are meant to compensate the surviving family members and the deceased’s estate for losses stemming from the death. The family did not expect to lose their loved one and will still need financial support. Damages awarded in a wrongful death case are meant to compensate the victims for their losses, including:
- Lost earning capacity of the deceased
- Lost care, support, advice, maintenance, service, and counsel the deceased would have given their surviving family members if they had not passed
- Lost companionship, love, comfort, and societal status
- Lost inheritance, including what the deceased would have set aside for surviving family members had they lived a normal expected lifetime
Exemplary (also known as punitive) damages are available in some Texas wrongful death claims. These damages can be recovered when a wrongful death is caused by a willful act, omission, or gross negligence. Exemplary damages are not meant to compensate the surviving family members; their purpose is to punish the wrongdoer that caused the wrongful death and to serve as an example to others that willful or grossly negligent behavior is not legally tolerated. A civil wrongful death claim does not charge anyone with a crime – that happens in criminal proceedings in a separate, criminal court. When damages are awarded in a wrongful death claim, the funds will be divided among the surviving family members according to the injuries they each suffered as a result of their loved one’s death.
Houston Wrongful Death Lawyers
The unexpected loss of a family member can be devastating, especially if their death was the result of someone’s negligence or a willful act of violence. If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and suspect another was at fault, contact J.D. Silva & Associates today to discuss your case at no cost. Time limits apply to your ability to file a lawsuit, so it is important to start the process quickly. Ultimately, we want to make sure we can help your family by taking away the stress of worrying about legal proceedings. Our goal is to do what we can to help you heal.
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