What Does Being Liable for Wrongful Death Mean?

July 5, 2022 Wrongful Death

A wrongful death lawyer can help you determine if another party is liable for your loved one’s death.

Losing a loved one is always tragic, but if the death was another party’s fault, it is even more difficult for survivors to bear. Grieving family members who have lost the love, support, and companionship of a loved one may need financial help to cover lost income and costs related to the death. They may also wish to see the party who caused the death be punished accordingly.

While money can never replace the person you lost, if the negligent party can be held liable through a wrongful death lawsuit, you may be able to receive both justice and financial compensation for your losses. A wrongful death attorney may be able to prove liability to hold the guilty party accountable and get you a settlement award that can ease your financial burdens. That settlement can help your family function in the future and allow you to rebuild your lives, especially if your loved one was a primary earner in your family.

What Does Being Liable for Wrongful Death Mean in Texas?

According to Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Title 4 Chapter 71, you may a bring a lawsuit for damages from an injury that causes a death if liability exists. The statute says that a person, their agent, or servant is liable if the death was due to another’s “neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” Not every accidental death is legally a wrongful death. To be held liable, someone must have done some kind of bad or negligent act. The death cannot be due to a coincidence or a set of uncontrollable actions.

Parties that may be held liable in wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • Individuals
  • Healthcare providers
  • Corporations
  • Government organizations and institutions
  • Employers.

Determining Liability for Wrongful Death

So how do you know if the death is actually a wrongful one and whether you can hold someone liable? Texas wrongful death laws are complicated, but an experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you make this determination.

In general, someone can be held liable for wrongful death in the same way they may be held liable in a personal injury case in which someone’s bad actions cause harm. If the injured party dies, the personal injury case then becomes a wrongful death claim for the family. For example, if a car hits a pedestrian, causing multiple injuries, it is a personal injury case. If the pedestrian dies, it becomes a wrongful death case.

A wrongful death case is a civil suit, independent from a criminal case where someone willfully or maliciously takes the life of another person. While a criminal case may also be pursued, civil liability is based on carelessness, neglect, or another form of negligence leading to the death of a person.

Examples of Liability for a Wrongful Death

There are many examples of parties having liability for a death due to negligence. Among the most common are:

  • A driver impaired by drugs or alcohol swerves into oncoming traffic and causes a fatal crash. Drivers have a duty of care to drive alertly and carefully and not to cause harm. The driver might not have intentionally caused harm, but can be held liable for being negligent behind the wheel.
  • A surgeon committed medical malpractice by actions or inactions that led to the death of a patient, such as cutting off the wrong limb or leaving an instrument in the body. Medical professionals are to follow a reasonable standard of care, or they may be held liable.
  • A manufacturer made a defective product that caused death — for example, a wire mesh medical implant that caused a fatal infection. Product manufacturers have a duty of care to ensure their products are safe when used properly and to warn consumers of dangers, or they may be found liable.
  • An employer failed to provide a safe working environment for employees, resulting in death from an explosion of a leaking or improperly inspected propane tank. Employers have a duty of care to ensure the working environment is kept safe, or they may be liable.
  • A business owner failed to fix a broken stair railing, and a customer suffered a fatal fall. Business and property owners have a duty of care to maintain property in a safe manner and post warnings of any danger, or they may be held liable.

Not every death is caused by a negligent act, and there may be situations where no one is liable. If a doctor treats a patient for late stage pancreatic cancer and the patient dies, if the doctor acted in accordance with a reasonable standard of care, the doctor is not liable.

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer Prove Liability?

For your case to be successful, your wrongful death lawyer will have to prove liability by showing that the defendant in the case was negligent and at fault for causing the injury that led to your loved one’s death. There is a series of steps involved in proving liability. They relate to…

  • Duty. The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased.
  • Breach. The defendant breached that duty of care by acting negligently or intentionally.
  • Cause. The negligent or intentional actions caused your family member’s death.
  • Damages. You suffered damages as a result.

To prove liability, our lawyers will:

  • Conduct investigations and gather evidence to show the defendant was liable, such as videos from surveillance or traffic cameras, work records, and accident reports, and police, ambulance, and medical reports and documents.
  • Interview witnesses and first responders.
  • Hire experts to reconstruct the accident and provide testimony as to how it occurred, who was at fault, and how the loss of your loved one affects your life and that of your family.
  • Handle communications and negotiations with insurance companies and their lawyers to arrive at a fair settlement.
  • Build your case and take it to trial if necessary and argue liability in front of a judge or jury.

What Damages Can I Get When Another Party is Liable for Wrongful Death?

In Texas, the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased, or the executor of the estate may bring a claim of wrongful death, seeking damages to cover financial losses and emotional suffering. In cases where the act that caused the death was grossly negligent or willful, punitive damages may also be awarded. An investigation of wrongful death settlements by the Washington Post in 2015 showed a median settlement amount of $1.2 million to cover the costs of damages. (*However, each case is unique – and past results never guarantees any future outcome.)

Depending on the facts of the case, when liability is shown, wrongful death damages might include payment for:

  • Emotional pain, mental anguish, and suffering of the victim and survivors
  • Loss of the deceased’s income and future earning capacity
  • Loss of inheritance
  • The value of lost services provided by the deceased, such as child care, home maintenance, support, advice, and guidance
  • Loss of companionship, society, love, and comfort.

Depending on the circumstance and negligence involved, damages awards for wrongful death can be substantial, and insurance companies have large legal teams on their side to try to show the defendant was not liable. It’s important for you to have an experienced attorney on your side to fight for justice and the settlement you deserve.

Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys

When you have lost a beloved family member, you are probably dealing with financial stress as well as emotional anguish and pain. At the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant in Houston, we will work hard to relieve some of your burden by effectively and compassionately representing you in your wrongful death lawsuit. We offer a free consultation to discuss the circumstances of your case and determine the best way to help.

Do not delay in seeking legal help. According to Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code Section 16.003, there is a statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a lawsuit that is generally within two years of your loved one’s death. However, you should always consult an experienced lawyer to understand all applicable deadlines that apply to your specific claims. Call us today at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000 to arrange a free case evaluation. Our wrongful death lawyers are here to help answer all your questions.

Attorney Terry Bryant

Attorney Terry BryantTerry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]

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