Wrongful DeathWrongful death victims are individuals who experience an untimely and preventable death because of someone else’s negligence. Had the at-fault party acted responsibly and lawfully, the decedent would not have died.

The immediate aftermath of a wrongful death is an especially difficult time for surviving family members. While families grieve upon any loved one’s death, wrongful deaths are often unexpected outcomes of fatal accidents, bringing a violent sense of shock, loss, fear, and confusion.

With the help of a Houston wrongful death lawyer, surviving families can get justice for wrongful death victims and compensation for the family’s financial and emotional losses. This compensation is critical for a stable financial future.

If you are suffering from a devastating loss, it is easy to understand why you do not want to add “pursuing a lawsuit” to the list of responsibilities during such an overwhelming time. But the only task necessary is to make one call to schedule a free case evaluation with the compassionate, knowledgeable Houston wrongful death attorneys from Steven M. Lee, P.C. Our team will handle your case from start to finish, making this difficult time and your future a little bit easier.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Texas

When a negligent party causes another person injury, the injured person can file a personal injury claim to collect compensation. When a person dies because of another party’s negligent act or recklessness, the victim’s surviving family can file a wrongful death claim to get justice for the untimely loss of their loved one and secure a settlement to recover the financial and emotional losses caused by the death. The wrongful death case essentially takes the place of the personal injury claim. A wrongful death case, like a personal injury case, is a civil case.

According to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §71.002, “A person is liable for damages arising from an injury that causes an individual’s death if the injury was caused by the person’s or his agent’s or servant’s wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.”

As with injury cases, in wrongful death cases, the plaintiff (the party filing the claim), must prove the at-fault party’s gross negligence, recklessness, intentional act, or negligent act caused the victim’s death and the family’s subsequent losses. A successful case proves the four elements of negligence:

  • The at-fault party owed the victim a duty of care–they had an obligation to take actions supporting the well-being of the victim and avoid actions that compromised the victim’s safety. For example, doctors owe patients a duty of care, and all drivers owe others on the road a duty of care.
  • The at-fault party did not uphold their duty of care. For example, a doctor misdiagnoses a patient or commits egregious errors during surgery, or a driver ignores traffic laws or drives while drunk or distracted.
  • The failure to uphold the duty of care caused the accident or conditions leading to the victim’s death. You must prove that this breach, and not something else, caused the accident and thus the wrongful death.
  • The victim’s death brought measurable losses. It is easy for grieving families to underestimate their losses and the long-term consequences of those losses. A skilled wrongful death attorney will assess the losses with great care.

If you sue for wrongful death, it is important to partner with a lawyer experienced in handling complex civil death claims and taking them through the legal process.

Situations Prompting Wrongful Death Claims

Any situation in which a person’s negligence or intentional act causes someone else’s death may provide grounds for a wrongful death claim, but some scenarios are more common than others, including:

  • Motor-vehicle accidents: a reckless, distracted, or drunk driver may hold fault. However, government entities responsible for maintaining safe roads, lighting, and traffic signals may be culpable if failure in their assigned areas contributed to the accident. If a vehicle part malfunctions and causes an accident leading to death, the part manufacturer, installer, and / or inspector may bear fault.
  • Workplace accidents: construction site accidents, equipment failures, or toxic environments (workers exposed to asbestos, for example) can be deadly.
  • Defective products: foods may be tainted with toxic ingredients or unlisted allergens, or toys or other consumer products can malfunction, causing injury and death.
  • Premises liability accidents: property owners who do not properly secure pools or other “attractive nuisances,” business owners who fail to remove dangers from their premises, or amusement parks which do not maintain safe rides or environments may be culpable for resulting serious injuries or wrongful death.

If the at-fault party faces criminal charges for their actions, those charges and the guilty or not-guilty verdict they produce do not bear on the surviving family’s ability to file a wrongful death claim. Even if the defendant is declared not guilty in criminal court, the burden of proof in a civil case is lower, and families can still receive a settlement and financial justice.

Surviving Family Members’ Legal Options

When a loved one dies, family members suffer devastating emotional losses but also experience new financial worries. Their loved one likely contributed to the household’s healthy functioning with their income and job benefits and through carrying out household duties such as childcare and home maintenance.

These losses pose a major financial hit compounded by bills related to the victim’s death. If the victim received medical care before succumbing to their injuries or illness, there are medical bills along with funeral expenses to pay. An experienced wrongful death lawyer in Houston can help surviving family members through this crisis by seeking compensation for the many losses.

Eligibility for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

In Texas, specific beneficiaries are eligible to file for financial compensation through a wrongful death claim, according to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §71.004. Those eligible include:

  • The surviving spouse
  • Children of the deceased person
  • Parents of the deceased person

One or more of these parties can file for the benefit of all. If none of the parties begins an action within three months of the victim’s death, the victim’s personal representative, such as an executor or administrator of their estate, can file unless all surviving family request they do not.

While the parties eligible to file may seem clear, some relationships may be more difficult to navigate. For example, if the surviving spouse was in the process of divorcing the victim, or if the children of the deceased are stepchildren, or if the surviving partner was pregnant with the victim’s child at the time of the victim’s death? Are these parties still entitled to compensation? Guidance from a knowledgeable Houston wrongful death lawyer is critical for ensuring all beneficiaries and dependents are recognized and get the compensation they deserve.

Collecting Damages for a Wrongful Death

No two wrongful death cases are exactly alike, so it is not possible to offer an average settlement amount. However, there are financial and emotional losses covered by a typical settlement.

Financial compensation covers related medical expenses, burial costs, income loss, lost job and retirement benefits, the value of household services the victim fulfilled, and loss of inheritance.

A settlement or verdict also provides financial acknowledgment of the surviving family members’ mental anguish and loss of companionship.

When the responsible party’s wrongful act is especially egregious, survivors may pursue exemplary damages, also called punitive damages. Exemplary damages can only be collected if the plaintiff can prove the victim died because of a “willful act or omission or gross negligence” committed by the responsible party.

While other damages are compensatory, punitive damages serve to punish the at-fault party for their behavior and act as a deterrent for others to avoid similar offenses.

Damage Caps

Texas does not put a cap on financial (economic) losses for wrongful death cases. There is no cap on non-economic (emotional) losses, except in medical malpractice cases. Then, the cap for non-economic damages is $750,000.

Punitive or exemplary damages are capped at $200,000 or two times the amount of economic damages plus the amount equal to non-economic damages, up to $750,000. The plaintiff receives whichever amount is greater. If the wrongful death occurred as the result of a felony, there is no cap on punitive damages.

Insurance Companies and Wrongful Death Claims

A Houston wrongful death lawyer should handle all communication with the at-fault party’s insurance companies. It is important for surviving families to remember that even if an adjuster conveys sympathy and compassion for the family’s loss, that compassion does not supersede the insurance company’s goal to pay as little in damages as possible.

Sadly, even in these devastating circumstances, insurance companies will use unsavory and unethical strategies designed to reduce their financial responsibility to the victim’s family. They may “strategically” interpret the details of the events leading to the victim’s death, attempt to put blame on the victim, or use fear tactics to intimidate surviving loved ones to accept an insultingly low settlement while claiming it is generous and more than the family actually deserves.

They may even resort to twisting your words, purposefully asking you questions that will prompt responses they can use to their benefit.

These tactics can add to the tremendous stress grieving families are already facing; and, they often work – leaving families inadequately compensated. Experienced Houston wrongful death lawyers are aware of insurance companies’ methods and will not be intimidated by them. Rather, they will stand up to the insurance companies and fight for the fair settlement the suffering surviving family deserves.

Texas Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

Texas law establishes a two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Section 16.003. This means a claim must be filed within two years of the date of the victim’s death.

Along with governing legal deadlines and defining those eligible to file, Texas law establishes policies for distributing compensation, collecting compensation if the defendant dies before the case is settled, and other complexities that can affect a wrongful death claim. These laws can be challenging for a person without legal background to parse, but a Houston wrongful death lawyer will navigate them with skill.

Survival Action

Surviving family members file wrongful death claims on their own behalf after their loved one has died. Another legal action families can take is filing a survival action. Under the “survival statute,” eligible family members or personal representatives can file a personal injury claim on behalf of the victim as if the victim were still alive. The survival statute allows a personal injury claim to survive the victim’s death.

Potential compensation covers funeral expenses, related medical expenses, property damaged in the accident, the victim’s pain and suffering, and income lost prior to death because of injury.

Sometimes, families have grounds to file both a survival action and a wrongful death claim. A Houston wrongful death lawyer will present families with all options. The sooner your partner with a lawyer, the better for your case, whether you pursue a wrongful death claim or survival action. Prompt access to the situation will allow your lawyer to investigate thoroughly, collect evidence, and file within the statute of limitations.

Claims Against the Texas Government

If your case is against a Texas government entity, the rules for filing are different, as per the Texas Tort Claims Act. The statute of limitations for filing is shorter, six months for claims against the state, and for some municipalities, as short as 90 days. Further, these filings require different documents and put limits on compensation. For these cases, it is absolutely crucial to connect with a Houston wrongful death attorney right away.

Contact Our Houston Personal Injury Law Firm for a Free Consultation

Our law firm has years of experience–over 45–helping Houston’s families experiencing a difficult time, and we are here to help your family now. Over 100,000 clients have seen brighter futures because of our legal advice and representation. While we provide superior legal guidance, we also offer a personal touch to each of our clients. We understand your vulnerability at this difficult time and will give your situation compassionate attention. That said, we are also prepared to fight boldly for a just financial settlement, holding responsible parties accountable for compensating your losses.

Contact us today. We look forward to getting to know you, working with you, and fighting for you.