Jason Stephens | June 27, 2022 | Wrongful Death
As with other tort claims, you must prove the legal elements of a wrongful death claim to recover compensation for damages. Proving that someone killed your loved one in criminal court requires different legal elements and levels of proof. This article only discusses what you need to prove in civil court to win a Texas wrongful death claim.
What is Wrongful Death in Texas?
Before discussing the legal elements of a claim, it helps to understand what Texas considers wrongful death.
The Texas wrongful death statutes state that you can hold a person liable for damages when they cause a family member’s death because of:
- Wrongful acts
- Failure to fulfill an obligation (default)
The most common causes of action for a wrongful death claim are negligence and wrongful acts. In either case, the family has the burden of proving the elements by a preponderance of the evidence. That means you must convince the jury that it is more likely than not (greater than a 50% chance) that the defendant is liable for your loved one’s death.
What Do I Need to Prove to Win a Texas Wrongful Death Case Based on Negligence?
Negligence is the basis for most personal injury claims. A person is negligent when they fail to act with the same level of care a person of ordinary prudence would use in the same situation.
The legal elements of a wrongful death claim based on negligence are:
- Duty – The party owed a duty of care to your family member
- Breach of Duty – The party breached the duty of care
- Causation – The party’s breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of your family member’s death
- Damages – The death of your family member resulted in damages
The duty of care depends on the circumstances. For example, motorists have a duty of care to obey traffic laws and use reasonable care to avoid causing traffic accidents. Likewise, a doctor owes a duty of care to patients, and property owners owe a duty of care to guests and invitees.
The level of care may differ. An experienced Fort Worth wrongful death attorney will understand the differences and the evidence required to prove each legal element.
What Do I Need to Prove to Win a Texas Wrongful Death Case Based on Wrongful Acts?
Wrongful acts are intentional conduct. Therefore, you must prove that the person intended to engage in the conduct that resulted in your family member’s death. Assault is a common example of an intentional tort.
Intentional acts that cause the death of another person generally result in criminal charges. However, the criminal case is separate from the wrongful death case. Therefore, the criminal court could acquit the responsible party, but you could still win the civil case.
What Else Do I Need to Know About a Texas Wrongful Death Claim?
In addition to understanding what legal elements you need to prove, other things you should know about a wrongful death claim include:
Statute of Limitations for Texas Wrongful Death Cases
Most Texas wrongful death cases have a two-year statute of limitations. Therefore, you must file a lawsuit before the deadline, or you lose your right to pursue a claim. However, there could be exceptions. Therefore, it’s best to consult a lawyer as soon as possible after the death of your family member.
Who Has the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
State law dictates who has the right to file a wrongful death action. Some states give an exclusive right to file a wrongful death claim to the deceased person’s estate.
Texas wrongful death laws allow the immediate family to file a lawsuit, including parents, spouses, and children.
However, if the spouse, children, or parents do not file a wrongful death lawsuit within three months after the death, the personal representative for the decedent’s estate may file a lawsuit. Other family members are prohibited from filing wrongful death lawsuits in Texas.
Damages in a Texas Wrongful Death Action
The laws also state what damages the family members can receive in a wrongful death case.
Damages may include:
- Loss of financial support (the income the deceased would have earned had they lived)
- Reasonable cremation, funeral, and burial expenses
- Loss of inheritance
- Mental anguish
- Loss of household support and services
- Loss of guidance, care, counsel, and support
- Medical costs the deceased incurred between the injury date and death
- Loss of companionship
A jury might also award punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct meets the qualifications for a punitive damage award. Additionally, the personal representative of the estate can file a survival action to recover damages the person would have been entitled to receive had they lived.
Wrongful death claims can be complex. Working with an experienced Fort Worth wrongful death lawyer is the best way to seek justice for your loved one.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Law Firm in Fort Worth, TX
If you’ve been injured in an accident in Fort Worth and need legal help, contact our Fort Worth wrongful death lawyers at Stephens Law Personal Injury | Wrongful Death | Truck Accidents to schedule a free consultation.
Stephens Law Personal Injury | Wrongful Death | Truck Accidents
1300 S University Dr # 406
Fort Worth, TX 76107