Texas wrongful death claims are different from the various types of personal injury cases described in other blogs (see blog on Types of Personal Injury Cases in Texas), in part because the harm suffered, or damages, are not to the deceased party, but rather to family member(s), as described below.
The second reason is that wrongful death claims in Texas are covered by a specific state law, the Texas Wrongful Death Act, which creates rights for spouses, parents, and children of a loved one who is killed in an accident by someone else’s negligence. This law gives spouses, parents, and children (including adult children) of someone who was killed in an accident the legal right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit to recover for any harm (monetary damages) they have and will continue to suffer as a result of the death of their spouse, child, or parent.
The basic elements of a wrongful death claim are:
- Someone’s death is caused, in whole or in part, by the conduct of another person or entity,
- The person or entity was negligent (see separate blog on Negligence) and that negligence was the proximate cause of the victim’s death,
- There are surviving beneficiaries (as identified in the statute), and
- Monetary damages to beneficiary(s) resulted from the individual’s death.
To have a right to bring a wrongful death claim requesting compensation as damages for the deceased’s death a plaintiff has to prove that: 1) the defendant’s wrongful act caused the deceased person’s death, and 2) the wrongful death plaintiff is a statutory beneficiary of the person who was killed, as identified under the Texas statute. Statutory beneficiaries include the deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents (described below).
Eligibility to file a wrongful death claim
The Texas Wrongful Death Act identifies specific parties, or ‘beneficiaries’ who are legally entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party that caused their family member’s wrongful death:
1. Eligible spouses
A spouse can bring a wrongful death action whether the couple’s marriage was formal or common law. The claim can be brought even if the spouses were separated or divorced when one of them was killed, and even if the surviving spouse remarried after the other spouse’s death. However, Texas law does not allow wrongful death actions by same-sex spouses.
2. Children, including adopted children
Any biological children of a deceased parent can bring a claim under Texas law. A formally and legally adopted child can bring a wrongful death claim for the death of his or her adoptive parent, but not for his or her biological parent.
3. Parents: adoptive and divorced parents are eligible, but not stepparents, foster parents, or grandparents.
Damages: Recoverable Compensation
An eligible statutory beneficiary may recover actual (compensatory) and exemplary (formerly ‘punitive’) damages.
Actual damages include:
- Direct financial losses including loss of the deceased’s earning capacity and the value of the care and support they would have provided their family members,
- Emotional pain and suffering,
- Loss of benefits from the love, comfort, and companionship of the deceased family member, and
- Loss of inheritance
Exemplary damages provide for recovery beyond actual damages to punish the wrongdoer for egregious conduct and to deter the wrongdoer and others from similar conduct in the future.
Time Limit to File a Claim (statute of limitations)
A wrongful death claim can be brought up to two years after the date of the decedent’s death.
If you think you have a wrongful death claim, an experienced, knowledgeable wrongful death attorney at the Johnson County law firm of Lovelace Law will answer your questions, explain your rights, and represent you to ensure that you receive all of the benefits that are legally yours in a wrongful death claim.
If you have any additional questions regarding a personal injury claim, please call our office at 817-953-9656 to make an appointment with W. Cade Lovelace.