Jason Stephens | October 13, 2020 | Wrongful Death
Losing a loved one is a traumatic life event. When you lose a family member because of a preventable accident or injury, the loss can seem even more devastating. It is understandable to be angry at the party who caused your loved one’s death.
The death of a person might result in criminal charges. However, the family might also have a wrongful death claim against the party responsible for their loved one’s death. It is important to know that a criminal case and a civil case are two different actions.
In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the legal elements to prove that the person committed a crime. However, the legal elements for a wrongful death claim in civil court are different. A not-guilty verdict in the criminal case does not necessarily mean that the person is not liable in a civil case for damages.
What is Considered Wrongful Death in Texas?
The Texas Wrongful Death Statute explains when a death is considered “wrongful.” The statute says that a person is responsible for the damages caused by another person’s death if the person or the person’s agent caused the death by:
- Wrongful acts
- Default (failure to fulfill an obligation)
A person, government entity, or corporation can be liable for a wrongful death. The circumstances surrounding the death determine the legal elements that a family must prove to be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Neglect or negligence and wrongful acts are two of the most common causes of action in wrongful death cases.
What are the Legal Elements of Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Negligence claims are common throughout personal injury law. Most personal injury cases involving proving negligence. The legal elements of a negligence claim are:
- The responsible party owed a duty of care to the deceased person
- The responsible party breached or failed to uphold the duty of care
- The breach of the duty of care was a direct and proximate cause of the death of the deceased person
- The death resulted in losses and damages
The duty of care can be difficult to define in general terms. There are many different duties that a person might owe another person. For instance, the duty of care for a property owner in a premises liability case is different from the duty of care owed to a consumer in a product liability case.
Drivers owe a duty of care to avoid causing a car accident, but the duty of care of a dog owner to prevent dog bites is slightly different. A wrongful death lawyer understands these differences and how to use the evidence in the case to prove that the party responsible for your loved one’s death breached the duty of care owed to your family member.
What are the Legal Elements of a Wrongful Act in a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful act is an intentional act. The evidence must show that the responsible person intended to commit the wrongful act that led to your loved one’s death.
For example, a person might cause a death when committing an assault. Police brutality may also be considered a wrongful act that can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Even though the criminal case and the civil case are separate, the evidence from the criminal case could be helpful in the civil case when proving the person intended to commit the act that led to the person’s death.
Other Key Facts to Know About a Texas Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Family members should contact a lawyer to discuss a wrongful death lawsuit as soon as possible. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit is two years. There could be some exceptions that could shorten the statute, such as cases involving government entities (think instances of police brutality).
Wrongful death laws state who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas. In most cases, the spouse, children, or parents have the right to file a lawsuit.
The laws also state what damages are recoverable in a wrongful death claim. The family might recover compensation for damages including:
- Medical expenses incurred between the date of injury and death
- Reasonable burial and funeral costs
- Loss of inheritance and financial support
- Loss of guidance, care, counsel, and support
- Loss of companionship and household support
- Mental anguish
If the person’s actions or conduct were intentionally harmful and those acts or conduct resulted in the deceased’s death, the court could also award punitive damages for a wrongful death claim.
Prompt legal advice is one of the best ways to protect your family’s right to seek justice from the person who caused your loved one’s death. It is also the best way to avoid errors or mistakes that could negatively impact the case and hurt your chance of recovering full compensation for the damages and losses caused by a family member’s death.