An Overview of Wrongful Death Claims
Have questions about filing a wrongful death claim in Texas? Houston wrongful death attorneys Neal Davis and Jed Silverman are here to help put your mind at ease during this difficult time.
When someone you know and love dearly is suddenly taken away from you, filing a lawsuit is probably one of the last things on your mind. So why worry about it? Simply put, because wrongful death lawsuits can help secure the financial future of a family devastated by a tragic accident and support individuals in coping with grief by providing justice and closure.
This doesn't mean filing a wrongful death claim is easy though. Houston injury attorneys Neal Davis and Jed Silverman are here to help guide families through the entire claims process from beginning to end - starting with common questions like what is a wrongful death claim, who can file a lawsuit, who can be sued for wrongful death, and how long before a claim expires. We answer these questions and more in the paragraphs below.
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Definition of a Wrongful Death Claim
When a person is killed as a result of another individual's or entity's actions, their surviving family members have the right to file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death claim is a type of personal injury lawsuit that seeks to hold individuals, companies and governmental agencies responsible for intentional or unintentional actions that cause death to another person.
Wrongful death, a civil tort, is legally distinct from a criminal murder charge, meaning a defendant acquitted of murder can still be held financially liable for the family's injuries in civil court. Wrongful death claims can encompass many different types of fatal accidents, from deadly car crashes to industrial accidents to defective products.
Wrongful death law is a relatively recent concept, only becoming common in the last century. The original laws brought over to the United States from England (known as "Common Law") did not allow this kind of claim. Now, however, every state has enacted some form of wrongful death law, though the details of filing a claim in each state varies greatly.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Only certain survivors are permitted to file a wrongful death claim for damages. These representatives are called "real parties in interest" and are typically related to the deceased in some way. Eligible "real parties" vary state to state. In some states, you can file a wrongful death claim if you are an immediate family member of the deceased, a life partner, a financial dependent, a distant family member, or anyone who suffered financially from the person's death.
However, in Texas, only the immediate family members can file a wrongful death claim. Immediate family members include:
- Children (including adopted children)
- Parents (of unmarried children)
Any "real party" can file a wrongful death claim individually or as a joint group. If no one files a claim within three months, an executor or attorney may file a claim on behalf of the deceased's estate.
Wrongful Death Immunity: Government Agencies & Family Members
There are only a couple exceptions to the federal rule that family members can file a claim against any party responsible for the death of their loved one. The first exception applies to wrongful death lawsuits against a state or local government.
Sovereign Immunity prohibits lawsuits against the government without its consent unless the state waives this right. A majority of states, including Texas, have disregarded Sovereign Immunity in many cases, meaning plaintiffs can indeed file a wrongful claim against a local government or employee.
For example, the parents of a child who drowned in a community swimming pool accident may be able to sue the city for wrongful death if negligence was a factor.
While Texas has done away with these exceptions for the most part, there are still strict rules for filing a claim against a government agency or employee. The time period in which a claim can be filed, for instance, is smaller than in typical wrongful death cases, and the damage caps are lower. It is important to discuss your case with a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney if your claim involves the following entities:
- Animal control
- Fire or police department
- Public hospital
- Recycling or refuse collector
- Bridge construction and maintenance projects
- Public parking facilities
- Jail or prison
- Recreational facility
- Community center
- Traffic signal or sign
- Public transportation services
The only other exception to the rule involves the family immunity doctrine. Family immunity means that an individual cannot be sued for wrongful death by members of his or her own family.
However, the state of Texas, along with many other states, has thrown out this doctrine in most cases because it prevented surviving children from collecting insurance payments they were rightfully owed.
Who Can You File a Wrongful Death Claim Against in Texas?
If you are an eligible family member such as a spouse, child or parent of the deceased, you can file a wrongful death claim against almost any party which was responsible for the death of your loved one - another person, a company or business, or a government agency and employees. The liable parties in your specific wrongful death case will depend on the circumstances surrounding your loved one's death.
For example, the surviving family members of a person killed in a fatal car accident may choose to sue:
- Another driver for operating a vehicle recklessly or while under the influence;
- A manufacturer, distributor or installer of a defective auto part;
- The owner of the establishment or property where the at-fault driver was served alcohol;
- A local government for failing to fix a highway defect or properly warn motorists of the danger; or
- A construction company for contributing to the dangerous environment that caused a fatal accident.
Texas Statute of Limitations: Wrongful Death Claims
Each state sets a time limit, called the "statute of limitations," on all personal injury claims. A wrongful death claim in Texas must be filed within 2 years of the date the accident occurred that led to the death of a loved one.
There are exceptions made to this time period in some cases, but this is rare. For instance, if the "date of discovery" of the injury that resulted in wrongful death occurred after the initial error, then the statute of limitations may extend past 2 years from the initial misconduct.
Let us Help File Your Wrongful Death Claim
Filing a wrongful death claim is a complex process. It can be especially overwhelming for individuals dealing with the unexpected loss of a loved one. To calculate the damages, a plaintiff must have a thorough understanding of the concepts of negligence, the statute of limitations, and their rights under Texas personal injury law.
What's more, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant should be held liable for their injuries. When it comes to wrongful death claims, there is lots to do and very little time to do it.
If you have questions about filing a wrongful death claim for the unexpected loss of a loved one, we strongly encourage you to contact us or schedule a free consultation. With nearly 40 years of combined legal experience, Houston wrongful death lawyers Neal Davis and Jed Silverman specialize in securing the best possible outcome in complex cases. Best of all, our expert services don't cost a penny unless we win - that's our No Fee Unless We Win Guarantee.