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How Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work in Texas?

Wrongful death attorneys in Houston, TX break down what to know

The death of a loved one or family member is always a traumatic event, especially if someone else’s actions or inaction caused their passing. That situation is legally referred to as a wrongful death.

But what does that mean? What is a wrongful death? How does the legal process work in Texas? Who can file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit in Texas? And what are the deadlines and other legal requirements for wrongful death cases in the Lone Star State?

We understand how overwhelming and upsetting such situations can be for family members, especially soon after the death of a loved one due to negligence. That’s why our Houston wrongful death attorneys at Smith & Hassler are here to help.

What is a wrongful death?

Wrongful death is a legal term used to describe a death caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless behavior. It’s essentially a personal injury case brought on behalf of someone who has died. (Note that in Texas, the loss of a fetus is considered a death for wrongful death purposes, as long as it wasn’t caused by the mother.)

It’s also important to note that wrongful death cases are civil cases rather than criminal cases. So even if there are criminal charges involving someone’s death, a wrongful death civil case is a completely separate legal matter.

What are the legal requirements for a wrongful death in Texas?

To file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit in Texas, the legal case must meet the state’s legal standards. Texas’ wrongful death rules and regulations can be found in Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code 71.002. To file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must show:

  • Evidence that someone’s death occurred due to negligence or a wrongful act.
  • The person taking legal action has the legal right to do so in Texas.
  • The person filing the wrongful death lawsuit or claim sustained a financial loss as a result of the death.

Because wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases, the standard of proof is a “preponderance of the evidence.” Again, this is a lower bar than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal court, so it is possible to win your wrongful death lawsuit even if the defendant was acquitted of a crime such as homicide.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas?

Only certain people can file wrongful death claims, based on their relationship to the decedent (deceased person), including:

  • Surviving spouse (husband or wife).
  • Children (minors or adults).
  • Surviving parents (mother or father).

In addition, if immediate family members do not file a wrongful death lawsuit within three months of someone’s death, the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of the estate.

What are common wrongful death cases?

  • Fatal motor vehicle accidents caused by another driver, including car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents.
  • Wrongful death of a loved one in a nursing home due to abuse or neglect.
  • Work-related fatalities.

How much time do I have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas?

The deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas is two years from the date of death. This deadline is known as the statute of limitations.

Two years might seem like a long time. However, it’s generally best to take legal action sooner rather than later. The evidence needed to prove that a wrongful death occurred can be lost or destroyed over time. Such evidence can include security camera footage, eyewitness testimony, and medical records.

Without evidence of a wrongful death, your claim or lawsuit will likely not be successful. This is why it’s critical that you talk to a Texas wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your legal options.

Should I accept a wrongful death settlement or file a lawsuit?

Whether to accept a settlement or file a lawsuit is not a decision to be taken lightly. Once you take the insurance company’s money, that’s it; your case is settled, and you can’t go back for more. On the other hand, filing a wrongful death lawsuit is a difficult and emotionally fraught process.

That’s why it’s so important for family members to speak with an experienced attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and options. Talking to a lawyer isn’t a commitment to file a lawsuit. It’s an opportunity to tell your story and learn about your rights under Texas law.

Which courts handle wrongful death lawsuits in Texas?

Most wrongful death lawsuits are filed in state district court. In some circumstances, you may be able to file a lawsuit in federal court instead. Again, where to file a lawsuit is not a decision to be taken lightly, and an experienced attorney who knows the law, the courts, and the jury pool is best equipped to advise you regarding your options.

Is there a cap on wrongful death damages in Texas?

There is no limit on compensatory damages for wrongful death in Texas. Compensatory damages include all types of financial compensation for the impact of the deceased person’s death, including but not limited to:

  • Economic damages – Compensation for objectively measurable financial costs, such as medical expenses, lost income, and funeral and burial expenses.
  • Non-economic damages – Compensation for losses that are more subjectively determined, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.

However, there is a limit on exemplary damages (called punitive damages in other jurisdictions), which are meant to punish the at-fault party. The limit on punitive damages in Texas is either $200,000, or two times the amount of economic damages (up to $750,000), whichever is greater.

How much is my wrongful death case worth?

There is no simple answer to this question. Every case is different. Having an experienced attorney who understands how the legal system works in Texas when it comes to wrongful death settlement claims or lawsuits can often make a big difference in the outcome of the case.

Of course, no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one. It may seem difficult and awkward to put a financial figure on that loss at all. However, a wrongful death lawsuit can help the surviving family members maintain their quality of life and secure their loved one’s legacy. It also provides a degree of accountability and closure by holding the at-fault party responsible.

How can a Houston wrongful death attorney help?

Your family only has one opportunity to obtain a lifetime’s worth of financial compensation due to the death of a loved one. We realize you probably don’t even want to think about money during this difficult time in your life. However, you need to act fast in order to build the strongest possible wrongful death case.

Our experienced Houston, TX wrongful death lawyers at Smith & Hassler can help you every step of the way. We have worked with many families throughout Texas and thoroughly understand how the legal system works in such complex cases. As a result, we won’t waste any time getting right to work with you on your important legal matter.

Get the law firm that puts your family’s needs first. Contact us and schedule a free case evaluation with a Houston wrongful death attorney you can count on to help you find your way forward.

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