How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If someone close to you is killed, you have options for bringing the responsible party to justice. Texas law describes wrongful death as any unlawful or wrong act – be it from neglect, lack of experience, or willful disregard – which results in someone’s death. If you have experienced this kind of situation, these legal options allow you, the decedent’s family or loved ones, to recoup financial losses. Though money can never bring back a loved one, it may make up for the monetary losses a family experiences. It can also serve as a deterrent to those who might cause further suffering.
Consult a Lawyer
First, talk with an experienced Austin wrongful death lawyer so you understand your options. Be sure to mention if your loved-one had been pursuing a personal injury case prior to death, as this could affect what legal options you have going forward.
Identify Who May File Suit
Not everyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Texas limits those who may file to the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. The state extends this to include adoptive parents, adult children, and adoptive children, but only if the parents fully and legally adopted them. For instance, if a grandparent was raising a child but did not go through the adoption process, filing a wrongful death claim might be difficult.
If no one files a suit within 90 days of death and no one has filed a request to block a wrongful death claim, a personal representative or executor of the estate may do so. Anyone seeking to file a wrongful death suit in Texas must do so within two years of the decedent’s death, though there are some exceptions. Consult with your Austin injury attorney to determine if there is an exception for your situation.
Prove Wrongful Death
Plaintiffs must follow the same guidelines for burden of proof as the victim in a personal injury case prior to death. In a case of negligence, for example, the accused needs to have owed a duty of care to the victim. He or she must also have violated that obligation. To file these claims, it doesn’t matter whether the violation was willful or intentional, though it may make a difference in a final settlement or award. Additionally, the violation must have directly led to the death.
In Texas, the court may award damages stemming from an untimely death for the following losses:
- Lost income capability
- Lost support to surviving family members
- Mental or emotional suffering
- Loss in love, companionship, or community
- Lost inheritance, including future earnings
Texas further includes exemplary or punitive damages, available when someone’s willful acts or gross negligence caused the untimely death. This penalty constitutes a punishment for the perpetrator or negligible party and a warning to the general public.
Plaintiffs – those seeking damages – must divide any damages the courts award among the surviving parties according to proportional injury the death caused each member; the courts will define these proportions.
There are several important steps to follow in filing a wrongful-death claim. Trust an attorney with experience filing wrongful death claims and the compassion to protect your future.