In Texas, thanks to the state’s wrongful death statute, any spouse, child or parent of a person who died or was killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another can sue for damages.
Of course, the devil is in the details.
Exactly who can sue
A wrongful death suit can be filed when the death of one person was caused by the negligence, wrongdoing or carelessness of another person. Suits can arise from medical malpractice, car accidents, slips and falls and many other incidents.
You can sue if you are:
- Married to the deceased person. If you have a common-law marriage, you have to prove the validity of your relationship before you can sue
- A child of the deceased. Children born out of wedlock or who were legally adopted can sue, too. Stepchildren cannot sue.
- The biological or adoptive parents of the deceased, as long as their parental rights have not been terminated.
- Siblings and grandparents cannot sue unless they are legal guardians of the deceased.
Most wrongful death suits follow criminal suits that must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The bar is much lower for civil court wrongful death suits in which prosecutors have to prove guilt by a preponderance of the evidence.
The statute of limitations is generally two years from the time of death, but there are circumstances when that date may be sooner than two years.
Damages covered by a lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit seeks to recover:
- Loss of income
- Loss of care and services the deceased would have provided
- Mental anguish
- Loss of comfort and companionship
- Loss of any potential inheritance
- Medical and funeral expenses
A jury decides the size of the award, but a judge may adjust the award upward or downward depending on factors such as if the defendant’s age, if the defendant had poor earnings or squandered his income, or if the defendant was poised to earn greater income.
A wrongful death claim is different than a “survival claim” which is a personal injury claim filed in the deceased’s name to seek recompense for medical bills lost wages and other losses the deceased would have been able to claim if they had survived.