Victims with physical injuries from an accident are not the only parties eligible to bring claims to damages in Texas. Texas also recognizes the mental anguish and emotional suffering a victim’s family members and loved ones go through – especially those who witnessed the traumatic accident firsthand. State law enables people negatively impacted by a family member’s accident to file what the courts call bystander claims.
Bystander claims are free-standing torts in Texas, meaning the plaintiff can bring a bystander claim separately from a victim’s direct civil action. Bystander claims are derivative in Texas, however, meaning the outcome of a related personal injury or wrongful death case will affect the outcome of the bystander claim.
A derivative claim is very different from a direct claim. While a direct claim focuses on the legal rights of the individual directly injured, a derivative claim serves the interests of someone other than the victim. A wrongful death lawsuit is technically derivative, for example, since the plaintiff is not the actual victim of the accident in question. Bystander claims in Texas are also derivative.
The outcome of a direct claim will foretell how the courts will rule on a derivative claim, in general. If the direct claim finds the defendant not liable for the victim’s injuries, for example, the derivative claim will most likely fail as well. The courts will not find the same defendant not liable for the direct injury but liable for derivative emotional harm. Likewise, a positive verdict for a direct claim could portend a successful derivative claim, as long as the plaintiff has all the other necessary elements.
It is not always possible to file a bystander claim after a harmful accident. In Texas, the plaintiff must be a close relative of the party directly involved in the accident. The courts restrict the right to recover to only the victim’s spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings and children. It is not a requirement that the plaintiff must live with the victim at the time of the accident. The claimant must also meet certain standards of proof to obtain compensation.
Proof during a bystander claim in Texas often comes in the form of testimony from relatives and friends who have seen firsthand how the accident impacted or traumatized the plaintiff. The plaintiff may also hire mental health experts to testify as to how an accident such as the one in question would reasonably affect an eyewitness or loved one in the same situation. An injury attorney can help with a bystander claim at the same time or separate from a personal injury or wrongful death claim in Texas.