Wrongful Death Claims 101
As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the experience is devastating. In addition to the overwhelming grief and emotional toll, the financial implications for survivors can be dire, especially if the deceased was a breadwinner, or if expensive medical treatment was involved in trying to save the person’s life. When a death is directly caused by the carelessness, distraction, or negligence of another person or entity, the emotional turmoil and trauma to survivors are multiplied. However, the economic effects of a person’s death don’t have to be devastating. Survivors may be able to receive compensation for their pain, suffering, and lost income by filing a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Defined
What constitutes wrongful death under Texas law? Chapter 71 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code defines wrongful death as a death resulting from the “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness or default” of a person or other entity. In simple terms, if someone dies because someone else acted carelessly or negligently, the family of the deceased may be entitled to compensation.
It should be emphasized that wrongful death is a civil matter. When someone maliciously or intentionally takes a life, it is usually considered a criminal matter.
If you have experienced the accidental death of a loved one, how do you know whether you should file a wrongful death claim? A wrongful death attorney can help you decide whether you have a viable claim based on all the details of your particular case, but here are some hypothetical examples of the kinds of actions that might lead to a wrongful death suit.
- A driver is distracted or drowsy and runs a stop sign, killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk. While the driver did not intentionally mean to harm anyone, his or her carelessness directly caused the death, and a claim may be filed against the individual.
- A company’s defective product causes a death. The product might be a medical device like a pacemaker, a children's product such as a car seat, or even contaminated food. The manufacturer of the product or producer of the food can be sued for wrongful death.
- Medical negligence can lead to a wrongful death claim. One example might be a doctor who misdiagnoses a life-threatening heart attack as indigestion or another less serious condition and the patient dies because they didn’t receive appropriate medical treatment.
Wrongful Death Claim Details
Not every family member of a deceased person can file a wrongful death claim. Only the deceased person's surviving spouse, children (including legally adopted children), and parents can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Texas law does not allow siblings of the deceased to file a claim.
A wrongful death claim can be filed against any person or other entity believed to be directly involved in causing the death. This includes individuals, government organizations, doctors and other medical providers, employers, and product manufacturers and more.
There is a statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits in Texas. Typically, they must be filed within two years of the person's death. (Always speak directly to a licensed attorney to know the exact deadline to bring your specific claim, and to understand any other deadlines that may apply) If a family member does not file within three months following the death, the executor or estate of the deceased may file as long as the family agrees to the executor or estate's making the claim. In any case, the faster the claim is filed, the better the chance for a successful outcome.
Awards in a wrongful death case can include compensation for mental pain and anguish, loss of companionship and love, and loss of the deceased’s income and future earnings, among other damages.