Discover How Wrongful Death Cases Can Be the Path to Justice & Recovery
Wrongful death cases can offer families an option for holding at-fault parties accountable for the loss of a loved one. Although every wrongful death case is different, knowing the basics — including what constitutes a case and what generally happens during these claims — can highlight more about the options to preserve a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Are the Key Elements of a Wrongful Death Case?
Fundamentally, there are four essential cornerstones of a wrongful death claim, including:
- A duty of care: One party must have some duty to act with a certain level of responsibility, care, or caution with regards to another party.
- A breach of the duty of care: In other words, the party who had a duty of care failed to honor that duty. Instead, their actions were somehow careless, reckless, or negligent.
- Causation: The careless, reckless, or negligent actions caused the accident and death.
- Damages: The death has resulted in financial and nonfinancial losses for the plaintiff(s).
Applying these to a specific type of wrongful death claim can clarify each element. So, let’s say an intoxicated truck driver causes a fatal 18-wheeler accident. In that situation:
- The trucker had a duty of care to others on the road to comply with the law.
- The trucker breached that duty of care by operating a truck while intoxicated.
- The act of driving while intoxicated directly caused the 18-wheeler wreck and the death(s).
- That death caused the plaintiffs to suffer losses such as permanently reduced household income, loss of support and benefits, loss of society and companionship, and mental anguish.
Reviewing these elements with a wrongful death attorney can be extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out if you have a claim, who’s liable, and what to do next.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
State laws establish eligibility for pursuing wrongful death claims. In Texas, the laws permit those shown in the table below to file wrongful death lawsuits.
|Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case in Texas||Details & Exceptions|
|Spouse||Separated spouses may retain eligibility as long as a divorce had not been finalized by the date of death.|
|Children||Biological and adopted children are eligible, but stepchildren (who have not been legally adopted) are not.|
|Parents||Biological and adoptive parents are eligible, but stepparents (who have not legally adopted a child) are not.|
Keep in mind that other loved ones may be able to pursue another legal remedy, known as a survival action, as an alternative path to justice.
What Happens During a Wrongful Death Case?
Since wrongful death can result from various types of accidents and incidents, these claims can move forward in different ways, with different parties sitting in the defendant’s seat. That said, most wrongful death lawsuits tend to involve:
- Investigations: This initial step can yield crucial evidence and insights about a claim, including how exactly the death occurred, who may be liable, and where to continue looking for more key evidence to strengthen a wrongful death case.
- Discovery: Depositions, evidence exchanges, and more can occur during this fact-finding stage of a wrongful death case. In this phase, both sides can get a better idea of the evidence and arguments the other side has, helping them develop their case. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for stronger wrongful death cases to settle early, like in or after discovery is complete.
- Negotiations: Plaintiffs and defendants can come together to try to work out a resolution ahead of trial. These negotiations can go back and forth for some time, as long as both sides are willing to compromise and work towards a solution. And most wrongful death cases are settled outside of court, without trial, because that tends to be more favorable than extended, expensive, and risky court battles.
Additionally, it’s critical to understand that the plaintiff’s choices can impact what happens during a wrongful death case, especially when it’s time to make decisions like whether to accept a settlement offer or proceed to a jury trial.
When & Why Do Wrongful Death Claims Go to Court?
Wrongful death cases go to a jury trial whenever a resolution cannot be reached outside of court. Typically, that happens when the plaintiff and the defendant don’t see eye to eye on one or more key issues of the case, like:
- Liability: The defendants may refuse to accept any liability, or they may try to (wrongly) blame the decedent, wholly or in part, for the event that caused the death.
- Damages: The defendants may refuse to pay part or all of the damages the plaintiff is seeking.
When wrongful death settlements can’t be reached, cases go to a jury trial for a resolution. Keep in mind, however, that wrongful death settlements still can be reached while a case proceeds to a jury trial.
Do I Really Need a Lawyer to Help Me with a Wrongful Death Case?
Yes, you really do need a wrongful death attorney if you are focused on:
- Safeguarding and asserting your rights
- Bringing closure to your family
- Avoiding potential missteps that could hurt your case as you build it and see it through
- Setting your wrongful death case up for a favorable, efficient outcome and a full, fair recovery
The truth is that you can’t count on at-fault parties to do the right thing, even when there’s zero doubt that they caused a fatal accident and a wrongful death.
A wrongful death attorney, however, will typically know how to take negligent parties to task and make them pay for what was taken by their negligent conduct.