What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

August 31, 2021 Wrongful Death

What Is the Action That Leads to a Wrongful Death?

While the answer to the question “What is a wrongful death” is simply stated, wrongful death lawsuits and claims can take many forms. A wrongful death is when someone dies because of someone else’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct. Many things may indicate that a wrongful death has occurred, so legal action can also take many forms.

What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The Elements of a Wrongful Death Case

A wrongful death lawsuit may bring some relief and assistance to the eligible survivors of the deceased. They are known as the “real parties in interest.” The eligible survivors may file a claim called a survivor’s action. They may file a lawsuit against the person who caused the death directly, a company the deceased may have been working for if the death occurred on company time, or even a manufacturer of some product that played a role in the person’s death.

The immediate family of the deceased may file the lawsuit. The immediate family includes the spouse, children, and parents of the person who passed away.

To qualify as a wrongful death lawsuit, certain elements must be met in any situation:

  • There must be an action that led to the death.
  • The person who committed the act must have had a duty to prevent the death, and breached the duty by committing the action.
  • The survivors must have been harmed by the death.

The survivor(s) will have to show that these elements are met.

Texas Law and Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Texas has a statute that speaks to wrongful death claims in Section 71 of the civil code in the state. The statute addresses what constitutes a wrongful death, who may file a claim, what one can recover, and other issues regarding wrongful death actions.

The statute notes that a wrongful death claim can arise when a person has caused someone’s death through:

  • A wrongful act – any action, error, or omission that violates the law. This could include intentional conduct like murder or speeding or accidental conduct like reckless driving, as long as these acts lead to the death of an individual.
  • Neglect and carelessness – Essentially, accidental conduct that does not violate a law in the state but causes the death of an individual.
  • Lack in skillfulness – One could infer a lack in skillfulness in neglect and carelessness, but skillfulness implies a professional standard. Medical malpractice could be an example of lacking in skillfulness. Another example is a product liability issue where a company’s failure to make a safe, functioning product caused someone’s death.

Any of these acts could allow Texas courts to hear a wrongful death lawsuit.

The survivors of the victim of a wrongful death can sue any actor believed to have caused the death. This could be an individual or a company.

When Can You Sue a Company for Wrongful Death?

When an employee of a business causes the death of another person during their employment or within the scope of their employment, the survivors of the deceased may sue the company for wrongful death. This is covered under 71.002(b) of the Texas Code. A person may be liable if the death is caused by the “agent or servant.” The agent or servant could refer to an employee of a company, like a delivery person or bus driver. The statute speaks specifically to those involved in mass transportation in a separate section, but any business could be liable if their employee causes someone else’s death.

The phrase “scope of their employment” is very important in these cases. If a delivery driver is on an errand for his family while using the company van, rather than delivering products, and he hits and kills someone, the company may not be liable.

What Damages Are Recoverable in Texas in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Damages are a Factor in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The costs of the death of a loved one are staggering, not simply in financial terms but in personal, physical, and emotional losses. Recovery for damages will help the decedent’s survivors pay for expenses related to the death, to recover wages that they lost because the wage earner has died, and to partially compensate for the devastating personal loss. In some cases, other damages are available.

Economic Damages

Recovery for economic damages includes recovery for the loss of income of the deceased. Additionally, the survivors may seek payment for burial services or related costs. The recoverable losses can include things other than just wages that the deceased may have earned. Possible damages include:

  • Lost wages
  • Lost benefits, such as medical insurance or retirement
  • Loss of inheritance of the deceased
  • Loss of the “goods and services” from the deceased.

Non-economic Damages

This type of recovery refers to things that are unquantifiable, like putting a price tag on the love you had for the deceased. The court will try to reach an appropriate dollar amount that will compensate people for:

  • The pain and suffering of the survivors
  • The loss of guidance and association the deceased would have provided family members
  • Loss of “consortium,” which is the companionship to a spouse.

Exemplary Damages

In most states, exemplary damages are known as punitive damages, covered in Section 41 of the civil code. These damages are awarded in cases where there may have been gross negligence, recklessness, or an intentional act. Punitive damages are intended to send a message and to further compensate the survivors when an unconscionable action led to the death of a loved one.

There is a cap on exemplary damages in Texas. The law caps recovery at the larger of $200,000 or twice the amount of economic damages plus an equal amount of non-economic damages, up to a maximum of $750,000.

Recovery is an important element in determining what qualifies for a wrongful death lawsuit. Without damages, there may be no recovery or compensation for the losses, and so no lawsuit.

What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney to Consult on Your Case

If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s recklessness, carelessness, or their wrongful action, you could be entitled to recover damages under Texas law. Your case may qualify as a wrongful death lawsuit if you lost financial or emotional support your loved one provided. An experienced wrongful death lawyer on our team can help. Call us at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.

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