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What Damages Can I Claim in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas?

May 12, 2023 - Wrongful Death by

A woman placing flowers down at a funeral

After a loved one passes, many people are left with important questions. This is particularly true when the loved one was the primary source of household income.

In Texas, certain family members can file a “wrongful death claim” when the loved one has passed away because of the negligent actions of another person or company. These types of claims allow the family members to recover certain types of compensation (or “damages”) for their financial and emotional losses.

We’ve walked countless families through these tragedies over our nearly 40 years in business. Our wrongful death attorneys stand by ready to help you investigate your claim and learn about your legal options today.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

In Texas, wrongful death happens when three factors align:

  1. A person (or unborn fetus) sustains an injury that causes their death.
  2. The fatal injury was caused by another individual or entity’s negligence, carelessness, lack of skill, or other wrongful act.
  3. The deceased person would have been able to file a personal injury lawsuit if they’d lived.

When these three things occur, surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim against whomever caused the fatal injury. Examples of wrongful death cases include auto accidents, medical malpractice, and intentional crimes.

Texas wrongful death claims and cases are different from criminal homicide cases, though both case types may be brought for the same incident. While wrongful death is about the financial compensation owed to survivors, criminal homicide is about penalizing the killer with jail time or other consequences.

Types of Damages Claimed in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

The damages for wrongful death claims are broken into two major categories: compensatory and non-compensatory (also called “punitive”). Compensatory damages are the more common type, although in certain circumstances you may get both.

Compensatory Damages

These damages are exactly what they sound like—they compensate family members for the actual loss and suffering associated with the needless death of their loved one.

Compensatory damages are further broken down into economic and non-economic damages.

  • Economic damages: Compensation for the financial costs of survivors’ therapy, lost future income of the deceased, and other measurable losses.
  • Non-economic damages: Compensation for the mental, emotional, and social costs of the death.

In a Texas wrongful death case, family members may recover compensation for things like:

  • Lost earning capacity (i.e., loss of household income)
  • Lost care, maintenance, services, support, advice, and counsel the deceased would have provided his or her surviving family members
  • Mental and emotional anguish, pain, and suffering
  • Lost love, companionship, comfort, and society
  • Lost inheritance, including what the deceased would have saved and left to surviving family members if he or she had lived to normal life expectancy

Punitive Damages (Non-compensatory Damages)

In some wrongful death cases, a special type of damages may be available. These damages are known as “punitive” or “exemplary” damages.

These types of damages are reserved for egregious cases. Specifically, these damages are available when the wrongful death is caused by a willful and intentional act or omission, or by “gross negligence” (in other words, the deliberate and reckless disregard for the safety and reasonable treatment of others).

The purpose of punitive damages is not necessarily to compensate the grieving family for specific losses, but to punish a wrongdoer and send a message that society will not tolerate the willful or grossly negligent conduct of the wrongdoing person(s) or company.

Who May File a Texas Wrongful Death Claim?

The people entitled to filing a wrongful death claim or lawsuit are the surviving spouse and other immediate relatives of the deceased:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents

One or more of these may bring the case to benefit all three groups. If they do not do so within three months of the death, the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate may bring an action (unless the surviving relatives listed above ask them not to).

Remember that lawsuits are subject to the statute of limitations. This means you have two years from the date of the death to file a lawsuit.

If the survivors receive a settlement out of court, those entitled to compensation (spouse, children, and parents) negotiate and agree among themselves how to divide the money.

If the case goes to trial, the jury has the sole authority to determine how the beneficiaries are to divide the money. It won’t necessarily be an even split, so it’s best to talk to your attorney beforehand before assuming a specific distribution. The court may take into consideration the relationship between surviving family members and the deceased, and whether certain family members suffered more or were more dependent on the deceased person financially.

RELATED: How Much Should I Ask for in a Personal Injury Settlement?

Survival Action: Separate from a Wrongful Death Claim

In addition to a wrongful death claim, Texas law allows families members to bring what is known as a “survival claim” in certain circumstances. This type of claim has its own separate types of damages available to surviving family members.

In short, survival claims are essentially personal injury claims that the decedent family member would have been able to bring on their own, had they remained alive. In other words, this is their own claim, which “survives” their death.

In Texas, a survival claim allows family members to recover medical and funeral expenses related to the decedent’s injury and death. Moreover, these claims compensate for the physical pain the decedent suffered between the relevant incident and the time of death.

If you’re still confused, think of it this way. A survival action case provides compensation for the pain, suffering, and financial damages experienced by the deceased person before they died. A wrongful death claim provides compensation to family members for the losses they experienced as a result of their loved one’s death.

How Attorneys Strengthen Wrongful Death Claims

When you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, the last thing you need is the red tape and stress of navigating a legal claim. In addition to laboring over the laws and statutes, you’re likely dealing with mental anguish, exhaustion, and emotional distraction.

You deserve time and space to heal. Working with a wrongful death attorney takes much of the weight of the legal case from your shoulders, allowing you to spend time with family and focus on getting rest.

Further, your attorney will be able to strengthen your case based on their knowledge, experience, and connections. Consider how a lawyer can:

  • Investigate your negligence claim and demonstrate it to the insurance company and court.
  • Gather compelling evidence for non-economic damages.
  • Work with medical professionals, accident reconstructionists, and other experts to best present your case.

At Roberts & Roberts, we bring decades of experience to each and every case. While you and your family work together through grief, and to determine what life will look like in the future, our legal team will manage the busy work and detailed demands of your wrongful death case.

RELATED: Who Is Responsible for My Texas 18-Wheeler Accident?

Roberts & Roberts Offers Compassionate Legal Guidance

After the loss of a loved one, you need to focus on yourself, your family, and whatever you need to find some peace and rest. You shouldn’t ignore your legal claim, but we understand how vital support is in this area.

Roberts & Roberts Attorneys at Law is here to help. We’re East Texas’ largest personal injury firm, with a national reputation—but we’ve kept our local perspective on what really matters. In addition to handling your case, we genuinely care for you along the way.

To schedule your free consultation with a truck accident lawyer, give us a call at (903) 207-5405 or complete our simple contact form.

References:

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 71.001 to 71.003 (2021).

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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