McAllen Wrongful Death Lawyer
Tables of content
- Texas Wrongful Death Laws
- Common Causes of Wrongful Death Cases
- Criminal Wrongful Death Cases vs. Civil Wrongful Death Cases
- Wrongful Death Damages
The death of your loved one can be an extremely traumatic event, and feelings only become worse when a family becomes aware that their loved one died because of another party’s negligence. Anybody who is dealing with the death of a family member that was the result of negligence by another party will want to be sure they are working with a McAllen wrongful death lawyer for assistance recovering appropriate financial compensation that covers all costs the family is now dealing with.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reports that the 4,489 motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2021 were an increase of 15.22 percent from the 3,896 deaths in 2020. The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) also reported that Texas had 468 workplace fatalities in 2020, which was actually the lowest total of the past five years.
Texas Wrongful Death Laws
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 71.002 defines a wrongful death as being an injury causing a person’s death when the injury was the result of a person’s or their agent’s or servant’s wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 71.004 establishes that a wrongful death action is for the exclusive benefit of a surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased who can bring the action, or one or more of those individuals can bring the action for the benefit of all. When none of those individuals entitled to bring an action begin an action within three months of the death of an injured person, the deceased’s executor or administrator can bring an action unless they are requested not to by the surviving spouse, children, and parents.
Siblings are thus not permitted in Texas to file wrongful death claims. The actions can only be filed by the aforementioned parties, although siblings may privately be able to recover compensation if the family members desire to share their awards.
Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 71.009, a death that is the result of a wilful act, omission, or gross negligence of a defendant can mean that exemplary damages (more commonly known as punitive damages) are recoverable in addition to actual damages. The Texas Survival Statute is in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 71.021, which states that a cause of action for personal injury does not abate because of the death of an injured person or because of the death of a person liable for the injury, a personal injury action will survive to and in favor of the deceased person’s heirs, legal representatives, and estate against the liable person and the person’s legal representatives, and such a suit can proceed as if the liable person were alive.
This means that the death of a person does not mean their personal injury cause of action dies with them. Instead, a cause of action will be preserved and passed onto their heirs, legal representatives, and estate so injuries can be but do not necessarily have to be the cause of the death.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 16.003 further provides that a person has to bring suit within two years of the day a cause of action accrues in an action for an injury resulting in death. A cause of action will accrue on the date of the death of an injured person.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death Cases
A wrongful death can stem from various forms of misconduct. Most every allegation will need to be properly investigated to determine the actual cause of death and prove the negligence of another party.
Some of the most frequent kinds of wrongful death cases are often the result of:
- Car Accidents
- Medical Malpractice
- Uber, Lyft and Rideshare Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Airline Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Other Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Bicycle Accidents
- Defective Product Accidents
- Workplace Accidents
- Maritime and Offshore Accidents
- Premises Liability Accidents
- Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse
- Dog Bites
Criminal Wrongful Death Cases vs. Civil Wrongful Death Cases
When family members file wrongful death claims, their actions will take place in a civil court. Certain wrongful deaths can also result in criminal charges that take place in criminal courts.
These two paths are remarkably different because a prosecutor in a criminal case will have to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is largely considered to be one of the highest standards of proof. In a civil claim, however, a plaintiff only has to prove a defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence, which means they were more likely than not responsible for a death.
Family members must keep these differing dynamics in mind because it may be possible that a person is found not guilty in a criminal case but could still be liable in a civil case. Perhaps the best example would be the case of O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown, and her companion, Ronald Goldman, but a civil jury later found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of and battery against Goldman and battery against Brown, ordering him to pay $33.5 million in damages.
Wrongful Death Damages
Plaintiffs who prevail in wrongful death claims can recover awards that are more commonly known as damages. Damages are typically economic damages or pecuniary losses that are actual financial losses families may experience, and noneconomic damages that are nonpecuniary losses or damages that are not economic in nature but still affect a person’s lifestyle and enjoyment of life.
Economic damages may include:
- Any funeral and burial expenses paid by surviving family members
- Loss of a decedent’s earnings
- Lost benefits such as retirement and medical or health insurance
- Loss of an inheritance
- Loss of a decedent’s household, parental, and spousal services
- Mental health care expenses for surviving family members
Noneconomic damages could include:
- Loss of a decedent’s care, support, guidance, companionship, and love
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of counsel
- Surviving family member’s emotional distress and mental anguish
- Pre-death pain and suffering
It is also important to note that any compensation family members receive in a wrongful death case will not be subject to a decedent’s debts. When your loved one leaves behind certain debts their estate is dealing with, the wrongful death settlement or jury award will not go towards those expenses.
As previously mentioned, punitive damages can also be awarded in certain cases, although such damages are much more rare. The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Code states that the intention of exemplary damages is to be a penalty or punishment instead of being for compensatory purposes, so punitive damages are supposed to punish people for particularly egregious acts.
Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.003, exemplary damages may only be awarded when it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that harm was the result of fraud, malice, or gross negligence. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.008 establishes that exemplary damages cannot be more than the greater of two times the amount of economic damages plus an amount equal to any noneconomic damages up to $750,000 or $200,000.
Damages in wrongful death cases, of course, assume that cases actually go to trial. In reality, most insurance companies are going to try to settle these cases before the case reaches that point because trials are very expensive.
You should know that an insurance company may try to contact you and offer a lump-sum settlement to resolve the case before you have even thought about calling a lawyer, but do not think that you have an obligation to accept their offer. Chances are very good that you are only being offered a fraction of what you are actually entitled to, so accepting the amount could prove disastrous if you learn later on that you need more money because you will have waived your rights to pursue any further damages.
Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.001(6) defines fraud as meaning fraud other than constructive fraud. To establish a fraud claim in Texas, a plaintiff will have to demonstrate that a defendant made a material representation, the representation was false, the defendant knew the representation was false or made it recklessly without any knowledge of its truth, the defendant intended to induce a plaintiff to act upon the representation, and a plaintiff justifiably relied on the representation, which caused the plaintiff injury.
Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.001(7), malice is defined as a specific intent by a defendant to cause substantial injury or harm to a claimant. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 41.001(11) defines gross negligence as an act or omission that when viewed objectively from the standpoint of a person at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others, and of which a person had actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeded with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a McAllen Wrongful Death Lawyer
If your loved one was killed in any kind of accident involving the negligence of another party, you are right to think that you might have a wrongful death claim and you will want to retain legal counsel for having the greatest chance of success. The Patel Firm will diligently work to ensure that you are able to recover every last dollar that is available to you.
Our firm represents clients all over the greater McAllen area, but we also have offices in Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley, and Central Texas. You may call us at (956) 527-0321 or contact us online to receive a free consultation so we can thoroughly review the details of your case and then further discuss what steps can be taken to help you get everything that you and your family need and deserve.