Texas Wrongful Death Claims

Nothing can replace your loved one, but seeking compensation for a wrongful death can lessen the financial burden

If you’re injured as a result of another person’s negligent or wrongful act, you can file a personal injury lawsuit and recover damages. But if a person is killed as a result of a negligent or wrongful act, the family members of the deceased must file a wrongful death claim to receive compensation.

There are no words or actions that can fully console a person after the unexpected death of a loved one, especially when another person's negligence is to blame.

Fatal wounds can occur in a number of devastating scenarios, including car accidents, pedestrian accidents, hit and run, slip and fall, defective products, and even medical malpractice.

While the emotional pain is difficult to bear, don't allow your loved one's death to pass without justice. Filing a wrongful death action can help ensure you receive some compensation for your loss.

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What is a wrongful death claim?

If you're injured as a result of another person’s negligent or wrongful act, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit and recover damages. But a personal injury lawsuit doesn’t help in situations where a person is killed as a result of a negligent or wrongful act.

This is where a wrongful death claim comes in.

A wrongful death claim is a civil tort that allows certain surviving family members to hold individuals, companies, and government agencies responsible for intentional or unintentional actions that cause death to a family member.

All states permit wrongful death claims, but the specific details, including which family members can bring a wrongful death claim and how much compensation they can receive, differ from state to state.

What situations commonly give rise to wrongful death claims?

A wrongful death claim can arise in a number of circumstances. Some of the most common situations that give rise to wrongful death claims in Texas include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, approximately 1 person is killed every 2 hours and 21 minutes in a car accident in Texas. Fatal motor vehicle accidents are often caused by reckless driving, drunk driving, and road defects.
  • Workplace accidents. All employers have a legal responsibility to provide their employees with a safe working environment. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, and the failure to provide an employee with a safe working environment can be particularly problematic in inherently-dangerous industries, such as the oil and gas industry and the agricultural industry
  • Medical malpractice. We trust doctors, physicians, and medical staff with one of the most important things of all: our health. However, healthcare specialists are human and can make mistakes. When a medical error leads to the death of a patient, a wrongful death has occurred. Common medical malpractice incidents that result in wrongful death include misdiagnosis, delayed or improper treatment, and surgical errors.
  • Bicycle accidents. Biking is becoming more and more popular in Texas and across the street. Unfortunately, the increased popularity has lead to a rise in bicycle accident fatalities. Similar to pedestrians, bicyclists have little protection when they’re in an accident.
  • Defective products. Most manufacturers take the appropriate steps to ensure their products are safe for public consumption and use. Nevertheless, thousands of defective products slip through the cracks each year, some resulting in death. Defective products that can lead to death include pharmaceutical drugs, children’s toys, automobiles, chemical products.
  • Pedestrian accidents. In Texas, there were 615 pedestrian fatalities in 2017. Since a person on foot is completely unprotected, any types of vehicle on pedestrian accident has the potential to result in death.

What’s the difference between a murder charge and a wrongful death claim?

A murder charge is a criminal charge brought in criminal court. The purpose of a murder charge is to punish an individual who killed another person.

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit brought in civil court. The goal of a wrongful death claim is to provide compensation to a grieving family for their economic and non-economic losses. Rather than being brought by the state, a wrongful death claim is filed by a member of the deceased’s family.  

Who can file a wrongful death claim in Texas?

Texas law restricts who can file a wrongful death claim.

According to the Texas Wrongful Death Act, only the following people can file a wrongful death claim:

  • The spouse of the deceased
  • Children of the deceased (including a legally adopted child if their adoptive parent is the deceased)
  • Parents of the deceased (including adoptive parents)

This means that siblings, grandparents, and other more distant relations aren’t permitted to file a wrongful death claim in the state of Texas.

What must be proven in a wrongful death claim?

When a surviving family member files a wrongful death claim, they step into the shoes of the deceased. As a result, the family member has to prove liability (in most cases, negligence) the same way the deceased would have had to prove liability had they survived the negligent or wrongful act.

For example, if the deceased was killed in a car accident, the surviving family member would have to prove that the car accident was the result of someone else’s negligence (such as another driver or the auto manufacturer). 

Can a surviving family member sue the government for a wrongful death?

Sovereign immunity prohibits lawsuits against the government without its consent unless the state waives this right. A majority of states, including Texas, have disregarded sovereign immunity in wrongful death cases.

As a result, surviving family members can sue the government if the government was responsible for their loved one’s death. A common example of government liability is when a child dies in a swimming pool accident at a public pool.

Enjuris tip: There are strict rules that apply when suing the government, including the requirement that a notice of claim is filed before the lawsuit. If you think you may have a wrongful death claim against the government, contact an experienced Texas attorney immediately.

How long do you have to file a wrongful death claim?

Under Texas law, there is a 2-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases within the state. This means that you must file your claim within 2 years after the date of your loved one’s death.

Enjuris tip: Your case does NOT have to be fully resolved within 2 years after the death of your loved one; this time limit is just for filing the claim. Learn more about the statute of limitations in Texas.

Of course, as with most legal issues, there are a few exceptions to the statute of limitations.

For example, if a child’s parents are killed while the child is under 18, the 2-year statute of limitations doesn’t begin at the date of death, but rather it begins when the child turns 18.

The statute of limitations is also extended if your loved one’s death isn’t determined to be caused by negligence until much later. For instance, if someone dies and it’s learned years later that it was the result of a defective drug, the statute of limitations may be extended so that you still have a chance to receive compensation.

How do you find a wrongful death attorney?

Finding the right attorney can allow you to receive compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one. It can also provide peace of mind during this incredibly difficult time.

Enjuris tip: Find out how to choose a great Texas attorney.

When pursuing a wrongful death claim, it’s important to choose an attorney who has experience handling such claims and who makes you feel comfortable.

You can find an experienced Texas attorney to handle your wrongful death lawsuit using our free online directory.

Finally, if you’ve lost a loved one and aren’t sure how to cope, here are a few resources to help you on your road to recovery:

What damages can be recovered?

In a Texas wrongful death lawsuit, the following damages may be awarded to the surviving family members:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Lost care, maintenance, and support (including loss of victim’s work wages)
  • Lost love, companionship, and comfort
  • Lost inheritance (such as what the deceased would have accumulated and left to family members)

For some wrongful death cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. Punitive damages are designed to punish the negligent party. These damages are only available when the death was caused by gross negligence or an intentional act.

Did you know that wrongful death law varies by state?

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