There is no amount of money that can make up for the emotional trauma left by the death of a loved one. However, if a loved one’s death could have been avoided, filing a wrongful death claim can help. It may enable a family to work through their own grievances and emotional needs without having to worry about medical bills, lost income, or other future financial obligations as well as help them prevent the responsible party or parties from causing the same heartache to another family in the future.
If the death of a loved one was caused directly or indirectly by the recklessness or negligence of another party, an experienced personal injury attorney can assist the victim’s surviving loved ones in beginning the healing process by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. It is important to be aware of the requirements and steps in a wrongful death lawsuit.
In the aftermath of a significant loss, emotional pain manifests in a variety of ways, and the healing process is unique to each individual. While people who have elderly or sickly loved ones may have time to prepare for an inevitable loss, sudden and unexpected death can be devastating. Losing a loved one unexpectedly can pose particular difficulties to their surviving loved ones’ recovery and cause an overwhelming degree of grief.
The most important step after losing a loved one is to tend to the needs of yourself and your family members. Losing a loved one is never easy, especially when it occurs through a sudden fatal accident. Focusing on relationships and therapy that can provide compassion and support can help ease the mind and help prepare you to handle what comes next after a wrongful death.
Requirements for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
According to Texas law, wrongful death is defined as a “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default” that results in the death of a person. Common examples of wrongful death under Texas law include drunk driving, negligence, car accidents, and work accidents.
There is a statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims in Texas. According to the Texas wrongful death statute, a person has only two years from the date of death to file a wrongful death claim unless one of the following exceptions apply:
- The plaintiff is a minor under the age of 18
- During that two-year period, the named defendants’ negligence was unknown
- The plaintiff’s mental or physical impairment prevented them from filing during the two-year period
Moreover, not just anyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Texas, statute dictates which specific parties can file a lawsuit on behalf of a deceased loved one. According to statute, those that can file a wrongful death action include:
- Legally adopted child of the victim
- The personal representative of the deceased’s estate
- Surviving adoptive parents of the victim
- Surviving minor child or adult child of the victim
- Surviving parents of the victim
- Surviving spouse of the victim
A wrongful death claim is a civil claim; and, any criminal charges against the liable party would be brought in criminal court by the state/prosecutors. A personal injury lawsuit for wrongful death can be brought regardless of any criminal charges.
Establishing Negligence After a Wrongful Death
There must be a legal basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. Negligence is the most common legal ground for wrongful death. The plaintiff has the burden of proving all four elements of negligence:
- The defendant owed the deceased a duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty
- The defendant’s breach caused the deceased’s injuries and eventual wrongful death
- Damages (the death and any other injuries) resulted
Every element of negligence must be proven. Establishing duty of care means that the plaintiff must show the defendant had a duty to the deceased. For example: if it was a car accident, all drivers on the road have a duty of care to drive responsibly and obey the rules of the road to keep all other drivers safe.
If a duty of care is established properly, then next, the plaintiff will have to show that the defendant breached that duty in some way, whether through drunk driving or not properly securing a workplace. After showing there was a duty and that duty was breached, the plaintiff will need to show that the breach established was the exact cause for the accident (were the driver not drunk, then the accident would not have happened – meaning, because the driver was drunk, a fatal accident occurred).
Finally, there must be some sort of damage; in all wrongful death cases, that will be a fatality. All wrongful death claims center around a fatal accident of some kind.
Dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one is never easy. Handling the financial duties along with the grief can be stressful. Filing a lawsuit may be the last thing on a loved one’s mind, and they may not know where to begin.
Working with an experienced wrongful death lawyer like Ted Liggett can help you learn more about the steps in a wrongful death lawsuit and where to start. Hiring a lawyer will help reduce the stress and burden on loved ones.