What Types of Wrongful Death Damages Are Available?
Under Chapter 71 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, the surviving family members who may be compensated for the loss of a loved one due to wrongful death include, and are typically limited to, a spouse, parent(s), and children – although in in some cases, grandchildren. If you are eligible to receive civil compensation after the death of your loved one, there are three types of damages you may claim from the negligent defendant who caused the fatal accident.
- Wrongful death damages experienced by the victim are paid to your loved one’s estate. They pay for damages experienced by your deceased loved one from the moment of the negligent accident that led to death. For example, in a car accident, these damages would begin from the time the crash occurred until your family member died from his or her injuries. This period could be mere minutes, hours, or even weeks or months after the accident. These damages can include medical expenses, lost income, your relative’s pain and suffering, and funeral and burial expenses.
- Survivor damages are intended to compensate family members of the deceased for their financial and other losses. They are typically filed by a lawyer on behalf of the closest living relative – usually the spouse – or if there is none, the oldest child. Regardless of whose name is on the lawsuit, the action is on behalf of the entire family. Survivor damages are intended to replace the money the deceased would have earned had he or she been able to live his or her normal life expectancy. These economic damages will generally include lost future wages that would have been earned by the victim, up to their likely age of retirement.
Mental and emotional pain and suffering by surviving family members, as well as loss of household support, love, and companionship, may also be sought by the family’s plaintiff.
Texas Wrongful Death Damages
Texas also allows immediate family members, such as children or spouses, to seek survivor damages for loss of consortium. This action allows for compensation due to family members’ loss of the deceased’s love, companionship, guidance, support, and mentoring, especially in the case of minor children.
- Exemplary (punitive) damages may be sought, if appropriate, to punish those responsible for the victim’s death if the defendant acted with intentional, reckless, or gross negligence.
Texas Workers’ Compensation Death Benefits and Third-Party Lawsuits
Surviving family members can collect benefits through workers’ comp when their direct relative (parent or child) is fatally injured on the job. Death benefits are 75% of the worker’s average weekly wage, up to a maximum amount set by law and reviewed annually. As of the October 2017 adjustment, the maximum weekly death benefit is $913 and is recoverable by all of the worker’s family members.
However, since workers’ comp pays only a portion of a death benefit (in addition to medical bills), this seldom covers the full amount of benefits available to family survivors who pursue damages through traditional civil avenues of compensation. Since employers who subscribe to workers’ comp are immune from being sued for civil damages, it might be necessary to identify any third parties who may have had a hand in the accident that took the life of a beloved family member.
If there are any of these “third parties” (e.g., a visitor to the relative’s workplace or some other negligent party), it is up to the surviving family members – with the assistance of a seasoned wrongful death lawyer – to identify them and bring claims against their liability insurer.
This can be problematic, as the third party’s insurer is likely to resist paying the requested compensation. Surviving family members are wise to consider retaining experienced legal counsel to assist in their quest for full and fair compensation that will care for their family.
Social Security Survivor Benefits
Social Security benefits may be available to you if your spouse suffered a wrongful death and he or she worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for the benefit. Under specific circumstances, other family members, including a divorced spouse or a minor or disabled child, may also be eligible for Social Security Survivor benefits. Check with the Social Security Administration or ask your attorney.
If you’re eligible for these benefits, Social Security may deliver a one-time payment of $255 to you, plus additional monthly benefits for a limited time.
Getting Help With Your Wrongful Death Case
As you can see, there are financial compensation options available if you have lost a loved one in an accident. Some are guaranteed, meaning all you have to do is file for them. Others will likely necessitate the need for you to retain a seasoned lawyer to guide you through the process and serve as your advocate against any parties which might resist your rightful claims.
If you have questions about filing a claim for damages or your eligibility to claim other legally owed survivor benefits, contact Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law by calling toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000, or complete our web contact form to arrange a free initial consultation.