Get Answers About Wrongful Death Cases & Compensation
Losing a loved one is unimaginably painful and heartbreaking. When that loss happens in or after an accident, there can be lots of questions about how it happened, how it may be prevented, and who should be held responsible for the losses to the decedent’s family.
Answering those questions, the wrongful death FAQs below share several important insights, from what wrongful death really means and who can sue to how these cases work, damages for wrongful death claims, and more.
When you’re ready for additional answers related to your situation, simply reach out to a wrongful death lawyer.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death describes the loss of life caused by some party’s careless, negligent, or reckless actions. A wrongful death claim is the civil action filed against the at-fault party, meaning the party responsible for causing the fatal incident and the death.
Depending on how the death occurred, wrongful death may result from — and wrongful death cases may be filed after — various incidents, events, and accidents, including (but not limited to):
- 18-wheeler accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Car accidents
- Airplane accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Helicopter accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Bus accidents
- Boat accidents
- Toxic exposures
- Airplane and helicopter accident
- Work accidents
Here, it’s essential to note that wrongful death can occur instantly in an accident or in the weeks to months that follow if victims survive their injuries for some time before succumbing to them. Consequently, what may have been a personal injury right after the accident could end up becoming the basis of a wrongful death case if victims’ injuries prove deadly.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
State laws dictate who can sue for wrongful death. In Texas, the law states that a surviving spouse, the children, and the parents of a decedent are entitled to file wrongful death lawsuits.
For parents and children, this includes both biological and adopted (or adoptive) relationships, but it does not include stepparents or stepchildren.
For spouses, exes can sue for wrongful death as long as they did not finalize a divorce with the decedent. Remarrying after the death of a spouse will not impact eligibility for spouses to file wrongful death lawsuits in Texas.
Can a Sibling Sue for Wrongful Death?
Texas law does not permit siblings to file wrongful death lawsuits. However, if a sibling is serving as the executor of the decedent’s estate, (s)he may be able to file a survival action in an effort to seek justice and recover damages.
A survival action differs from a wrongful death lawsuit in that:
- A survival action focuses on the losses the decedent suffered while a wrongful death claim addresses the losses sustained by the surviving family members.
- Damages for survival actions are paid to the decedent’s estate while wrongful death compensation goes directly to the family member(s) who filed the claim (the plaintiffs).
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case?
The four vital elements of a wrongful death claim are:
- A duty of care: This refers to some party’s responsibility to act with a reasonable amount of care or caution. For instance, motorists have a duty of care to others on the road when it comes to obeying traffic laws.
- A breach of the duty of care: This means that some party failed to abide by their duty of care. In other words, this is the negligence aspect of the case. Using the motorist example, a breach of their duty of care would be speeding, drunk driving, or reckless driving that ends up causing a crash.
- Causation: The individual bringing the wrongful death claim (the plaintiff) has to establish that the negligent act — the breach of the duty of care — directly caused the deadly injuries. So, again returning to the car accident example, if that crash ends up being fatal, the plaintiff would need to prove that some failure on the part of the at-fault driver caused the crash and the death.
- Damages: This refers to the losses the plaintiffs have suffered as a result of the death, covering both economic and non-economic losses.
Going over these elements with a wrongful death attorney can be extremely helpful when you’re trying to figure out if you have a claim and what to do next.
How Do You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
To file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas, you need to:
- Know who the at-fault parties are: In other words, you need to know who you are suing, and that can require an in-depth investigation, depending on your situation.
- Pursue the case within two years of the date of death: Two years is the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases in Texas.
- Complete the necessary documentation: This includes court filings, legal notices for those being sued, and more.
If you think you have a case and you’re getting ready to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas, it’s smart to talk to a wrongful death lawyer first and get answers about your options, the potential challenges ahead, and how to set a case up for success.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
To prove wrongful death, you need to establish that:
- The defendant owed the decedent some duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty of care.
- The defendant’s breach of their duty of care directly caused the fatal injuries.
Depending on the accident or event that caused the death, proving wrongful death may require evidence like (but not limited to):
- Police reports
- Accident scene photos
- Videos of the incident or the aftermath
- Eyewitness accounts and statements
- Expert witness analysis and testimony
- Medical records
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Take?
There is no definitive answer or timeframe related to the length or duration of wrongful death lawsuits because:
- Every claim is different: More complicated wrongful death cases can require more extensive investigations, more involved negotiations, and maybe even longer trials.
- Settlements can end the process at different times: Within months of filing a wrongful death lawsuit, settlement offers could be on the table for victims. In other cases, it can take several months to work out settlements — or there may be an impasse, meaning the case goes to trial. Even during trial, however, a settlement could end the process at any point up until a verdict is reached.
Generally, wrongful death lawsuits take at least a year or more, with more complex cases potentially extending longer than 2 years.
How Much Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?
A wrongful death case will typically be worth the amount of the losses that the plaintiffs have suffered. Since those losses can vary from claim to claim, the value of wrongful death lawsuits has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Consequently, it’s best to get a more specific answer from a wrongful death lawyer.
Setting that aside for a moment, in general, wrongful death lawsuits can result in compensation for losses like (but not limited to):
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income and earning capacity
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of inheritance
- Pain, anguish, and suffering
Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Suit?
Insurance companies typically pay the damages in wrongful death lawsuits. That’s because the at-fault parties in these cases — parties like drivers, property owners, and businesses — usually have some kind of liability insurance coverage.
Keep in mind that insurance companies will try to get out paying damages whenever possible. So, it’s not unheard of for them to try to deny coverage or blame victims for their death. That’s why it can be crucial to have the representation of an experienced wrongful death attorney who knows how to stand up to insurance companies and others.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
Wrongful death settlements can be paid out either as:
- Structured settlements: This type of payout involves the regulation distribution of a fraction of the settlement over time, usually on a monthly basis, until all funds have been paid in full.
- Lump-sum settlements: This involves a one-time payment for the total amount of the agreed-upon settlement.
As part of the settlement deal, plaintiffs (or their wrongful death lawyers) will work with defendants (or their insurance companies) to nail down the payout structure, as well as other terms of the deal.
Need More Answers?
Talk to a wrongful death attorney who can listen, share more information, and help you understand your rights, options, and the next steps.