If someone you know passes away in an unexpected accident, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death claim. This is a type of civil lawsuit that seeks to hold someone accountable for causing a preventable death. Filing a claim can make your loved one’s story heard and give your family the answers and closure that it needs. Only certain parties have the right to file wrongful death claims in Texas, however.
What Is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death lawsuit can only be filed in Texas if the circumstances of the death qualify it as wrongful or preventable. Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Section 71.002 defines wrongful death as a death caused by someone else’s careless acts, neglect, unskillfulness, default or wrongdoing. In general, if the fatal injury would have been prevented with a reasonable amount of care and skill by the defendant, the defendant can be held liable (legally and financially responsible) for the losses associated with the death.
To have grounds for a wrongful death claim, you or your lawyer must be able to prove that the defendant owed a legal responsibility of care to your loved one, breached or violated this duty of care, and caused the fatal injury. There must be evidence that your loved one’s death would not have occurred were it not for the defendant’s actions. Common accidents involved in wrongful death claims in Texas are car crashes, premises liability accidents, products with dangerous defects, medical malpractice and criminal activity.
Who Has the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
If you believe that the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death qualify your family for financial benefits through a wrongful death lawsuit, the next step is learning who has the legal right to file this type of suit under Texas law. Section 71.004 states that filing an action to recover damages for wrongful death is a benefit that is exclusively given to:
- The surviving spouse
- Surviving children
- Parents or guardians of the deceased
If none of these parties file within three months of the decedent’s death, the administrator or executor of the state may bring the cause of action instead, unless the surviving heirs specifically request that the executor not file. Although some states allow anyone who can prove they were dependent upon the decedent to file a wrongful death claim, the filing party must have one of these relationships with the decedent to file in Texas.
Who Can Benefit From Bringing a Wrongful Death Claim?
The person who files the claim is not necessarily the only one who can receive financial compensation for wrongful death. Regardless of who files the wrongful death claim in Texas, any financial compensation won is distributed among beneficiaries and the estate. This can include a surviving spouse, children, parents, stepchildren and any other surviving individual who is entitled to recover compensation.
A settlement or judgment award is distributed based on the stipulations of the decedent’s will. If the decedent did not create a will before the time of death, financial benefits are distributed to heirs according to the determination of a judge or jury. Typically, each heir must demonstrate the economic and noneconomic losses they suffered because of the family member so that the courts can assign appropriate financial compensation to each.
How Long Does Someone Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Finally, the filing party must submit the paperwork to the civil courts within Texas’ deadline to have a valid wrongful death claim. The deadline, or statute of limitations, on a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas is two years of the date of death. Note that this might not be the same as the date of the injury. If the claimant fails to bring a cause of action within two years, the courts in Texas will most likely reject the case. This is why it is important to consult with an attorney in Dallas as soon as possible if you believe you have the right to file a wrongful death claim.