Losing a loved one is a devastating experience. Only those who know such grief can truly empathize with the pain and heartache you and your family are going through. But to make matters even worse, if you also relied on your beloved family member for income to pay monthly bills and contribute to your financial security, that stress is even more pronounced.
Grieving families often fail to initially grasp the long-term financial impact of the death of a loved one. It’s only later, when the bills start rolling in, that the fiscal reality really hits them. It becomes difficult – and often impossible – to afford continued house payments, save for college or retirement, and even pay everyday expenses like groceries and utility bills. When someone causes the “accidental” death of your loved one, they owe your family compensation that is vital to your survival.
So we’re sharing answers to some of the common questions you might have about wrongful death compensation and how it works. If you have further questions, or wish to schedule a free initial consultation, contact the Houston wrongful death lawyers with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law at 1 (800) 444-5000 or contact us through out site.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful Death is a category within personal injury law that applies to the “accidental” death of a family member due to the negligent acts of another (person or entity, such as a business, church, or government) when any of those entities’ negligent actions caused that fatal accident.
Surviving family members and the deceased’s estate can file civil claims and lawsuits against the negligent defendant(s) for legal compensation (“damages”). The fundamental principles of these laws are meant to provide financial compensation to and to promote the emotional recovery of the immediate family.
What are some common instances of wrongful death?
The most common cases of wrongful death involve medical malpractice, defective products, vehicle collisions, hazardous workplaces, nursing home abuse, and criminal assaults. But when anyone suffers injury in any accident as a result of negligence, there is always the possibility that the victim could die. Often, wrongful deaths are characterized by someone else’s negligence that contributed to – or is responsible for – the death of your loved one
Who can file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit?
If your loved one lost his or her life due to someone else’s negligence, Chapter 71 of the Texas Practice and Remedies Code allows immediate surviving family members to file an insurance claim and – if necessary – a lawsuit for the loss of a loved one. Generally, family members who may file include:
- Minor children
But owing to the extended definition of “family” in our contemporary times, others who share the home and/or receive financial benefits and emotional assistance from the deceased may also be able to seek damages for their relative’s wrongful death.
What are the different types of damages in a wrongful death claim/lawsuit?
There are three primary classifications. They are economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
- Economic damages apply to the financial contribution the deceased made to family members. This includes aspects such as lost income, company-paid benefits, and funeral expenses.
- Non-economic damages reflect the pain and suffering the family experiences due to their loved one’s passing. Non-economic damages are to compensate for the family’s emotional grief and loss of guidance and companionship of their loved one.
- Punitive damages can also be awarded if the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent or willful (they did it on purpose). The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant(s) for unacceptable behavior.
How long do wrongful death cases take to be resolved?
The timeline varies for these claims depending on the circumstances. Sometimes it can take a few months; in other situations it may take several years before everything is completely settled to the family’s satisfaction. This is why the sooner the claim is filed following the incident, the quicker it can start its journey through the legal system – and the better your chances are of reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
How long do I have to act on the wrongful death of my family member?
In most wrongful death cases, Chapter 71 gives plaintiffs a two-year window to file a lawsuit. This means that the insurance claim against the defendant’s liability insurer must be successfully resolved within that two-year window after the wrongful death OR a lawsuit must be filed before that two years ends. There are a few exceptions:
- The plaintiff is a minor child – The right to file a wrongful death claim by a minor child cannot expire until two years after the child is of legal age to pursue the claim. So if the child is 14, he or she has essentially six years (18 plus 2) to directly file his or her claim. This does not, however, prevent a parent or guardian from filing a claim on the child’s behalf at any time within the statutory two-year window.
- The defendants, or their negligence, are unknown – Texas wrongful death cases follow the “discovery rule.” So the statute of limitations does not begin until the time a “reasonably prudent person” would have known that they’re injured. We see a lot of these kinds of claims associated with medical malpractice, defective drugs, and cases involving toxic substances.
- Physical or mental incapacity – If a plaintiff-relative suffers some physical or mental injuries that keep them from filing within the two-year limit, the time may be extended.
- Fraud – Sometimes defendants deliberately conceal their involvement in a wrongful death. In such cases, the time period may be extended to allow the deceased’s family members to pursue civil action against the defendant(s). Note that such frauds might also be subject to criminal investigation.
What Are The Biggest Challenges People Face in These Cases?
Dealing with the emotional loss arising from the death of a loved one is the greatest challenge. If a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, each family member bringing the claim will likely have to give a deposition (sworn statement) to the defense lawyers. This forces each family member to relive their loss and again explain their unique emotional and financial ordeal.
If the case goes to trial (even though the great majority of cases settle beforehand), each family member will have to relive the experience again when they testify. The experienced trial lawyers with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law help clients prepare for their depositions and trial testimony in an effort to make these arduous burdens easier to bear.
Wrongful death cases should not be handled by inexperienced lawyers. Seasoned wrongful death lawyers like those with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law have many years of experience navigating a grieving family through this complicated, emotional process. They are dedicated to protecting the right to full and fair compensation for those who have lost a beloved family member. Please contact us at 1 (800) 444-5000 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free initial consultation.