The Complete Guide to Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas
One wrongful death is one too many. Yet 22,000 Americans die from medical errors yearly, and tens of thousands die from preventable accidents, including car accidents.
You may feel helpless when your loved one dies from a careless accident. But you’re mistaken. You can fight back and file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas once you know what to do.
What is wrongful death, and who can file a lawsuit? How can you build a case against someone for killing your loved one? When should you hire a lawyer?
Answer these questions, and you can get the justice and compensation you deserve through a few steps. Here is your comprehensive guide.
Understand the Definition of Wrongful Death
Title 4, Chapter 71 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code describes Texas laws related to wrongful death. In Texas, a wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to an injury, and the injury must come from another person’s or entity’s carelessness, neglect, or wrongful act.
If your loved one had survived their injury, they would have been entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit follows similar legal rules to individual injury cases.
Many incidents can lead to wrongful death. You can file a wrongful death lawsuit for a car accident, medical malpractice, or wind farm accident. You can also file a wrongful death against someone for murdering or assaulting your loved one deliberately.
If you win your case, you can receive damages from the defendant. You can earn money based on how much money your loved one would have made if they had lived. You can also get compensation for their medical expenses and your mental pain and anguish.
A wrongful death lawsuit can coincide with a criminal case. But the two points may have nothing to do with each other. Even if you win your case, a jury may acquit the defendant in a court of law.
One reason is that civil and criminal cases have different standards of evidence. To win your civil case, you must prove the defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it’s more likely than not that the defendant caused your loved one’s death.
In a criminal case, the prosecutor must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which means that there is no other good explanation for the evidence presented at trial.
Determine the Defendant
Before you file a case, you need to determine who the defendant is. The defendant is the person most directly responsible for your loved one’s injury. In a car accident case, this would be the other car driver.
You can file a lawsuit against multiple defendants. If your loved one died from a surgery two people performed, you could sue both surgeons. But if one surgeon was under the other surgeon’s supervision, you may want to focus on the supervisor.
If the defendant died while preparing your lawsuit, you could file a suit against the executor of their estate, and your lawsuit would pursue as though the defendant were still alive.
You can file a lawsuit against a city or state government, though you cannot sue the federal government. However, you have less time to file your case, and the government can use its resources to fight your lawsuit. It would help if you talked to a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.
Determine the Plaintiff
Texas laws limit who can file a lawsuit for wrongful death. A deceased person’s spouse, children, and parents can file a lawsuit.
Distant relatives like nieces, nephews, and cousins do not qualify, and adopted children, and adoptive parents do, as long as they can provide proof of their connection to the deceased.
Two or more of these individuals can join together to file a suit. A qualifying person can also file a lawsuit without the consent of other family members.
If no one moves to file a lawsuit within three months of the person’s death, the executor of the person’s estate can do so. Money can go to the spouse or children, or it can go to the estate. The executor will not personally benefit from the lawsuit.
The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is two years after the deceased person’s death. This gives you time to cope with the loss of your loved one and gather evidence.
Do not start your lawsuit until you’ve dealt with your loss. You can talk to a wrongful death attorney whenever you feel ready. Many attorneys know of grief counselors and therapists you can talk to, and you can remain in touch with them during the proceedings.
Try to get as many documents related to your loved one’s death as possible. Medical records can detail the injuries on your loved one’s body and the treatments they received. Bills and receipts can show how much you spent on their treatment, which can help you calculate your compensation.
Surveillance videos and audio recordings can confirm what happened to your loved one. If your loved one suffered an accident at a public site, you can go and take photographs of the grounds.
Find Physical Pieces of Evidence
If your loved one has recently died, you can ask for a forensic autopsy of their body. You can also exhume the body and have toxicology tests run on it. However, you are not required to have an autopsy report if you have medical documents proving an injury.
You should have other pieces of evidence that indicate what happened. If your loved one was in a car accident, you should keep the damaged car. You can also use your loved one’s clothes or personal possessions.
If someone saw the death, you should get their witness testimony. If they made phone calls to 911 or took photographs of what happened, you can ask for their evidence. Even if they didn’t, you could ask them to write their version of events.
You can also hire a lawyer who will depose them. You can bring a witness into your trial, but remember that the defendant can cross-examine them. Ask your lawyer to prepare the witness, so they are ready for hostile questions.
Talk to a Lawyer
Talking to a lawyer soon after your loved one’s death is okay. But it is generally a good idea to spend some time gathering evidence before you go to an attorney, and this lets you see for yourself if you have a case and helps you leave a good impression on your lawyer.
Find a wrongful death attorney, not a personal injury attorney. Wrongful death attorneys know better state laws and similar cases than personal injury attorneys. If your loved one died in a car accident or due to medical malpractice, you could find a lawyer with experience in that type of death.
You should talk to a few different lawyers and compare your options with each other. The lawyer you hire should get to know you personally, and they should have a good knowledge of wrongful death law. They should understand how to explain complex concepts and answer your questions.
Even if your evidence is strong, your lawyer may conduct an investigation. They may want to add additional evidence and talk to other experts to be safe.
File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas
Once your lawyer has determined that you have a strong case, they will file your lawsuit. From there, they will handle the process, though they will give you updates and may ask you for additional evidence.
Remember that the statute of limitations applies to filing a case, not concluding a case. A case may take months or years to resolve, especially if you ask for a large amount of money.
Your lawyer and the defendant may reach a settlement, ending the case early but getting you some money. Consider the terms of the payment carefully and assess your other options.
Learn the Essentials of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit in Texas could be your lifeline. You can file for one if your loved one dies due to someone else’s recklessness or negligence. You must be an immediate family member, and the defendant must be directly involved.
But you have two years to gather evidence. Get paperwork, ask for an autopsy, and talk to witnesses. Hire an experienced attorney who can investigate the case and come up with other pieces of evidence.