Losing a loved one to someone else’s wrongdoing or negligence is one of life’s most difficult challenges. Wrongful death claims are the law’s response to this tragedy, and while the compensation you receive cannot ever make up for the ultimate loss you’ve experienced, it can help you on your journey toward recovery. If you have questions or concerns about wrongful death benefits and who is entitled to them, don’t delay consulting with an experienced Austin wrongful death attorney.
What’s in This Guide
- What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
- Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
- Winning a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
- Compensation for Associated Damages
A wrongful death claim is a civil matter, which is distinct from a criminal matter. You can file a civil claim personally against the at-fault party (or the party whom you allege to be at fault), and if you prevail, he or she will be required to compensate you financially for your losses. In a criminal case, on the other hand, the charges are brought by the state, and the defendant faces fines and penalties that are intended to punish him or her. Generally, wrongful death claims mimic the role that personal injury claims fill – except the fatally injured party’s loved ones bring the claim on his or her behalf.
In the State of Texas, only the following family members can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their lost loved one (who is known as the decedent):
- The surviving spouse of the decedent
- The surviving children of the decedent, including adopted children
- The surviving parents of the decedent, including adoptive parents
It is important to mention that children who have been adopted are not entitled to file wrongful death claims in response to the death of their biological parents. Further, siblings are not qualified to bring wrongful death claims in Texas (although they are in many other states).
Those family members who are entitled to file a wrongful death claim can request that such a claim not be filed, but if they fail to do so within three months of the decedent’s death, the representative of the decedent’s estate can move forward with a wrongful death claim.
In order for your wrongful death case to prevail, you will need to demonstrate that four specific elements are present.
Duty of Care
First, you must be able to show that the defendant in your case owed your loved one a duty of care, which amounts to a responsibility to his or her safety. For example, as motorists, we all owe each other a duty of care that includes driving in accordance with the laws. Commercial property owners also owe their customers, clients, and other invited guests the duty of care of maintaining their premises in the reasonably safe condition necessary to allow for their safe passage.
This is where negligence or wrongdoing comes in. The defendant must have breached the duty of care owed to your loved one through some form of negligence or wrongdoing. Drunk drivers breach the duty of care they owe everyone else on the road, for example. Commercial property owners who routinely fail to adequately address required maintenance do the same.
Cause and Effect
The defendant’s breached duty of care must have caused the accident that ultimately proved fatal to your loved one. While drunk drivers should not be on the road, this does not mean that the drunk driver in question caused the accident in question. If the drunk driver, however, flew through a red light and plowed into your loved one’s car head-on, it is a very different matter, and his or her negligence can be identified as the cause of the fatal accident in question.
Finally, you must demonstrate that you suffered legal damages as a result of the accident in question.
If you can establish these four elements in relation to your loss, you can move forward with a solid wrongful death claim.
In your wrongful death claim you will seek compensation for the damages incurred, which can include all the following:
- The medical costs your loved one experienced from the date he or she was fatally injured to the date he or she succumbed to those injuries
- Your loved one’s funeral and burial expenses
- The loss of financial support and potential inheritance you experience as a result of your loved one’s death
- The loss of companionship and help around the house that you experience as a result of your loved one’s death
- The emotional pain and suffering that you endure as a result of your loved one’s death
Additional Matters to Consider
There are two additional matters that it is very important to consider when it comes to bringing a successful wrongful death claim.
The Statute of Limitations
In the State of Texas, you have only two years from the date of your loved one’s death (following the fatal accident in question) to file a wrongful death case against the at-fault party. This is known as the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, and once it has elapsed, it’s very likely that you will have no other legal recourse in the matter (which makes working with a skilled Texas wrongful death attorney from the outset in your best interest). The emotional toll that losing a loved one to someone else’s negligence takes on you should not be discounted. This two-year time frame can slip away very quickly without professional legal counsel in your corner.
The Burden of Proof in Your Case
Because your wrongful death case is civil, the burden of proof that you’ll need to meet is considerably lower than it would be in a criminal case. You will need to prove via the preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s negligence is responsible for your loved one’s death. This means that more of the evidence than not must align with your claim – or it is more likely than not that the defendant is at fault in the matter
Don’t Delay Consulting with an Experienced Austin Wrongful Death Attorney
If you’ve lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence, look no further than the focused Austin wrongful death attorneys at The Patel Firm. Our knowledgeable legal team is up to the challenge of skillfully advocating for a case resolution that honors your loved one’s memory and that supports your difficult journey toward healing. We’re here to help, so please don’t wait to contact or call us at 361-400-2036 for more information today.