When a person dies as a result of negligence or malice, the grief, mental anguish, and anger felt by their loved ones is incomparable. Wrongful deaths leave an unfillable hole in families when a loved one is taken too soon and under preventable circumstances. The emotional toll and the financial burdens – such as medical bills, funeral costs, and lost wages – make grieving and healing even more difficult and painful for families. While there is no amount of money that could ever replace the loss of someone you cared about, a Texas wrongful death lawyer can help families pursue a lawsuit that would give justice for victims while also lessening stressful financial burdens families have been forced to incur.

What is Wrongful Death?

In legal terms, wrongful death is defined as “the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person.” When one party, through malice or negligence, causes the death of another party, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against the party or parties who caused the death on behalf of the qualifying family members who lost their loved one. Family members of wrongful death victims are entitled to pursue a civil lawsuit due to the negligent actions or accident that caused the fatal injury to their loved one. The family essentially stands in shoes of the deceased, pursuing the death case as the deceased could have pursued a personal injury claim had they not succumbed to their injuries.

In Texas, wrongful death is defined under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code in Chapter 71. Under that Texas wrongful death law, a surviving family member must be able to prove that their loved one’s death was caused by:

  • Neglect
  • Carelessness
  • Wrongful acts
  • Unskillfulness
  • Failure to fulfill an obligation (default)

The most common cause of wrongful death is negligence and the family must be able to prove that by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning your lawyer must show it is greater than 50 percent likely that the party or parties you are suing are responsible for your loved one’s untimely passing. As in any negligence case, the legal elements that must be shown are a duty of care owed to the deceased by the party or parties you are suing, a breach of that duty, the breach was the cause of the death, and the death resulting in damages.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death? 

With regard to motor vehicle accident fatalities, while incapacitated drivers cause an unfortunate amount of wrongful deaths, a variety of causes exist. Beyond the roadways, wrongful death lawsuits can involve defective products, work accidents, and medical errors.

Car and Truck Accidents 

Motorists have a responsibility to operate their vehicles in a safe manner according to Texas traffic laws. When a driver gets behind the wheel of car or truck while intoxicated, their unsafe and erratic driving can kill those on or near the roads. In addition, advancements in technology have caused many preventable deaths due to distracted drivers. Distracted drivers turn their attention from their road and surrounding vehicles when they engage in distracting activities such as using their cellphone for texting, talking, and checking, as well as changing the radio station, eating, using navigation, and any other activity inside the cabin that detracts focus from driving. Any one of these reckless behaviors can lead to a fatal car accident. A negligent driver can be held accountable for their actions, including any resulting fatalities from a vehicle collision. This can include passengers in the driver’s vehicle, drivers and passengers in other vehicles, as well as pedestrians or cyclists who may have been killed in the accident.

Unsafe Working Conditions

Employers have a duty to ensure workers are free from danger when performing their jobs. Unsafe working conditions put workers at a greater risk of suffering a fatal accident. Many occupations are inherently hazardous in nature, and workers in these fields rely on and trust that their employers are following federal guidelines regarding workplace safety. Employers are required by federal law to take all necessary precautions to ensure a safe workplace, including but not limited to:

  • Safeguarding all machinery and tools
  • Safeguarding platforms and areas around objects workers could fall into
  • Inspection of electrical circuits
  • Providing slip-free walking areas
  • Providing safe, non-slip stairs and adequate barriers/railways
  • Posting proper safety signage in languages workers can read in areas of high visibility
  • Removing toxic substances and waste
  • Providing personal protective equipment to workers
  • Regularly performing routine maintenance on machines, equipment, and vehicles

An accident involving any of the above risks can quickly turn fatal for workers who were simply trying to do their jobs. Employers that favor profits over workers’ safety should be held responsible for the wrongdoing and negligence that claims the lives of so many each year.

Defective Devices

When a safety, medical, or other device fails to function as intended and causes a death, it is considered a wrongful death. Companies and manufacturers have a responsibility to consumers to ensure all products are safe, follow federal regulations regarding the use of toxic materials, function as intended safely, and that a product will not seriously injure or kill a consumer. Sadly, every year defective products are recalled due to manufacturers failing to perform sufficient product safety testing and/or failing to routinely inspect the product before it enters consumers’ hands. Defective products that have resulted in wrongful deaths include but are not limited to:

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

There are time limits in which a wrongful death claim can be filed called a statute of limitations. A person has only two years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit unless one of a very few specific exceptions is involved such as the plaintiff being a minor child or mentally or physically impaired during the two-year period, among others.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Texas law limits who can legally file a wrongful death lawsuit. The only parties who can sue and claim damages are the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. If none of those individuals bring a claim within three months of the death, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

There are some constraints and exceptions, including:

  • Children must be legal adults (over 18).
  • Siblings and grandparents cannot file, except when it can be shown that the deceased financially supported them.
  • Parents cannot sue on behalf of minor children unless the child is legally recognized as a child of the deceased. For example, a parent can’t sue on behalf of their children for the wrongful death of a stepparent unless the stepparent legally adopted the children.
  • The only other person who can sue on behalf of an estate is the personal representative of the lost loved one, which is usually an executor of the will.

Survival Action

A survival action is a personal injury claim filed by the deceased person’s estate for compensation for the injuries they suffered before they died. A representative of their estate files a survival claim, which allows the estate to pursue compensation for items including the medical bills and physical and emotional pain they suffered prior to their death. The financial recovery obtained in a survival action goes to the decedent’s estate for distribution to their heirs.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

While almost anything can cause wrongful death, some causes are more commonly seen. The most common causes of wrongful death include car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, defective products, criminal acts, nursing home abuse and neglect, and more.

Why Wrongful Death?

The sad reality of a loved one’s passing is that in addition to the emotional pain of loss, there will likely be a hefty financial burden. Families of wrongful death victims endure enough stress and pain without worrying about the financial burdens resulting from their loved one’s passing. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks financial compensation to cover numerous expenses and other damages, including:

  • Loss of financial support for surviving dependents if the death occurred to the sole or partial supporter of the family
  • Loss of emotional support, companionship, and intimacy for spouses
  • Costs associated with medical care that preceded the wrongful death
  • Costs associated with funeral expenses
  • Compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering

Even though a loved one’s loss can affect many people, Texas law specifically states that only the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and/or parents are eligible to bring a wrongful death claim. Even if spouses were separated at the time of the death, the surviving spouse can still file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas.

Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas

Family members may file individually or in a joint action when they initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. However, they must file suit within three months of the date of the death. If they fail to do so, the personal representative or administrator of the deceased’s estate can begin legal proceedings.

Having a skilled wrongful death lawyer as a guide can help ensure your family is taken care of during this time of tragedy. Our law firm’s professional legal team will gather documentation and evidence for the case, taking that burden off your shoulders. Your attorney can assess your circumstances and determine how to proceed for the best possible outcome.

Damages Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas

No matter who is filing the suit, it’s crucial to have a thorough and complete list of the damages your family has suffered. There are economic damages, which usually have a specific price, and non-economic damages, which cover the pain and suffering you experience. If your family member faced a long battle against the injuries or illness caused by someone else, you must consider those past costs as well as any future ones. In addition, the time between the death-inducing injury and the actual passing gives rise to an additional cause of action called a survival claim.

Some typical losses that are covered in a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Lost income, especially if the deceased was the family breadwinner
  • Lost wages of family members who cannot work due to grief
  • Mental anguish
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Hospital bills (ICU, ER, and surgery)
  • Loss of inheritance
  • Loss of consortium with a partner
  • Loss of guidance, care, and companionship for children
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional anguish
  • Household and care services
  • Repair or replacement of property, such as a car, if the person died in a crash

You can rely on your personal injury attorney to aid you in collecting documentation for many of these damages, such as insurance information, medical records, reports from authorities, and expert testimony. They can develop a complete picture of how your family has been harmed and how much is needed to ensure all their losses are reimbursed.

In some cases, exemplary damages (also known as punitive damages) may be available. These are meant to be especially harsh and serve as a warning to the defendant and the public at large to show their bad behavior will not be tolerated. Exemplary damages can be recovered when wrongful death is caused by gross negligence, a willful act, or an omission.

Steps To Take After a Wrongful Death

After a wrongful death in Texas, the surviving loved ones of the deceased should take the following steps:

  1. Obtain the death certificate
  2. Locate a will
  3. Identify the surviving loved ones who are legally eligible to file a wrongful death claim
  4. Collect evidence such as pictures and receipts
  5. Document the losses being suffered
  6. Contact an experienced attorney for help

Wrongful Death Lawyers Helping Houston Families

The Houston lawyers at Dax F. Garza, P.C. are committed to helping the wrongful death victims and their families across the state. We are patient and compassionate as we advocate on your behalf. No family should feel they are alone in their fight for justice for their loved one. If you lost a loved one in a wrongful death, contact our wrongful death lawyers today for a free consultation to see how we can help.

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