As with any lawsuit, if you’re preparing a wrongful death claim in Texas, you’ll need to keep several things in mind. How do you define a wrongful death in Texas? Who can file a claim? What damages can you recover? What are the time limits to file?
1. Why File a Wrongful Death Claim?
According to Texas law, a wrongful death is one that is caused by a person due to any “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default,” per Texas Statutes Section 71.001. In other words, the wrongful death may be the result of a crime, an accident, negligence, or foolish behavior.
Wrongful death lawsuits are filed not as criminal punishment (since the state will take care of that if warranted), but to sue for losses that the victim’s death has left his or her survivors without. Often, this derives from earning potential had they survived, but it may also include loss of companionship and love, pain and suffering, and mental anguish.
2. Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Unlike some states, in most cases, only surviving immediate family can file for wrongful death: specifically the victim’s parents, spouse, and children. However, the representative or executor of the victim’s estate can file if the victim’s family fails to do so within three months of the wrongful death, unless a survivor specifically asks them not to.
Adult children, including adopted children, can file a wrongful death claim if their parent is a victim. However, adopted children cannot file claims for the wrongful deaths of their biological parents. Adoptive parents can file wrongful death lawsuits for both adopted and biological children, but the child’s surviving siblings cannot, whether adoptive or biological.
Unlike a homicide case, survivors or their representatives must file a wrongful death suit directly, as opposed to criminal cases, in which the prosecuting attorney’s offices files the suit on behalf of the state. Wrongful death lawsuits can result only in monetary damages. That said, you can file a wrongful death suit even if there are no associated criminal charges.
3. Damages for Wrongful Death
Any damages awarded as part of a wrongful death suit go to compensate the estate and surviving family members for their losses, and may include compensation for:
- Lost inheritance, presuming the victim would have left an inheritance to the survivors had he or she not suffered their untimely death
- Lost earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Lost advice, counsel, maintenance, services, and support
- Emotional and mental anguish
- Lost comfort, companionship, love, and society
The court may award exemplary damages if gross negligence or a willful omission or act, rather than a simple accident or unwise behavior, caused the victim’s death. In cases like these, the person who caused the death knew what they were doing was wrong, or knew that their product or action was dangerous to others, but failed to warn the victim. Exemplary damages are punitive damages meant more to punish the offender and to act as an object lesson than to compensate the survivors.
The court divides any damages rewarded in a Texas wrongful death lawsuit among the survivors, based on the extent to which the victim’s death injured them, as determined by the court.
4. Time Limits for Filing Your Lawsuit
The Texas statute of limitations for the filing of a wrongful death suit is two years, with the exception of a few rare, clearly-defined circumstances.
Contact a Texas Wrongful Death Lawyer for Help With Your Claim
It’s always difficult to deal with the loss of a loved one. But if you also have to face the bitter pain of a wrongful death claim, we can help. If you believe you have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit for a death that has occurred within the past two years, or you want to know if your claim fits any of the handful of exceptions that allow claims to proceed after the two-year statute of limitations, call Brylak Law for a free consultation.