Firm News

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid?

Dealing with death is hard. But finding out your loved one’s death is the result of someone else’s negligence can be devastating. If you have recently lost a loved one due to someone’s actions or negligence, you have rights.

For example, a defective space heater took the lives of Corpus Christi residents Martin and Angelita Enriquez. The heater, which Lasko manufactured, ignited and caught the house on fire, trapping the couple inside. Unfortunately, the couple did not survive the fire. The family of the victims filed a wrongful death suit and a Nueces County jury recently awarded the family $37 million in damages.

While nothing is guaranteed, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney today to learn more.

What Is Wrongful Death?

While any death feels wrong, Texas has specific requirements for what qualifies as a wrongful death matter. The Texas wrongful death statute states that a person or corporation may be liable for a person’s death if the death is the result of the person or agent’s “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” To argue a wrongful death case, you must show that the defendant had a duty to your loved one, and that their death was a direct consequence of a breach of that duty.

Common examples of wrongful death include:

Texas law specifically includes unborn children from the time of conception up until birth. This means, if a person’s actions directly result in the miscarriage of a child, the child’s parents may have cause for a wrongful death suit.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

The law specifically addresses who may recover damages from a wrongful death claim. In Texas, this includes:

  • A surviving spouse;
  • Biological or adoptive parents;
  • Biological or adopted children.

Each eligible party may bring the matter to the court, or one party may present the case for all eligible parties. The estate may bring a claim under the state’s survival statute. This claim covers only what the deceased party could have recovered if they had lived to file a personal injury case. This includes outstanding medical bills, the deceased’s pain and suffering, and loss of income while the person was still alive. If you are unsure whether you can make a wrongful death or survival claim, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

A wrongful death suit is a legal claim for damages. To try to recover these damages, you must file a wrongful death suit in the appropriate court. Generally, the parties will work together through their attorneys to come to a reasonable settlement. If the parties do not agree, the case can go in front of a factfinder for a final decision.

Upon reaching an agreement, the settlement can be paid out in one of two ways:

  • Lump-sum payment: As the name suggests, a lump-sum payment is a one-time payout of the entire settlement amount. If there are any costs or attorney fees, these will likely come out before the final distribution. This is the most common form of payment and it allows you to have access to all the funds right away.
  • Structured settlement: With a structured settlement, the defendant makes smaller payments over a given period of time. With this option, you do not have access to all the money at once, but you would have a consistent payment to help cover ongoing costs such as medical bills or your mortgage. Both parties would have to agree to a structured settlement.

Regarding tax liabilities, wrongful death settlements are generally non-taxable. However, if your award includes punitive damages, you may have to pay taxes on this portion of the settlement. Under Texas law, wrongful death settlements are exempt from any form of debt collection on behalf of the deceased.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Calculated?

The purpose of a wrongful death suit is to remove the financial burden of a loved one’s death from the family and place it on the responsible party. With this understanding, your wrongful death lawyer may consider many factors. Because Texas separates wrongful death claims from survival claims, you may need to file both types of claims simultaneously.

Typical damages in many wrongful death cases include:

  • Lost wages or earning capacity (including future wages and inheritance);
  • Loss of companionship;
  • Loss of services, love, and guidance; and
  • Pain and suffering or emotional anguish.

For survival claims, damages can include:

  • Lost wages (before the date of death);
  • Pain and suffering on behalf of your loved one;
  • Outstanding medical expenses; and
  • Funeral and burial costs.

In addition to typical damages, the court might also award punitive damages. These damages are fairly rare and are usually awarded in extreme circumstances, as a punishment to the defendant for gross negligence. This may include drunk driving, murder, or serious misconduct.

Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

Texas law limits how long families are given to file a wrongful death suit. In most cases, the time limit is two years from the date of your loved one’s death; that time limit varies from state to state. State laws may contain exceptions for fraud and delayed discovery of the defendant’s liability, among other issues. If you don’t know whether your case may qualify for an exception, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney.

Know Your Rights

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult things you can experience. During this time, it is important to take care of yourself and surround yourself with people you can trust. While money is probably the last thing you want to think about right now, the death of a loved one can take an unexpected toll on your family’s finances.

A wrongful death suit may help alleviate some of the stress and could help make sure you have money to pay your bills. Your rights matter, and it is important to hold those liable responsible if you can. If you have questions or need help with your wrongful death claim, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney.