When death results from the negligent acts of someone else, everything changes for the family of the deceased. The unexpected event results in emotional trauma, grief, and, in many cases, serious worries about how the family will survive financially. If you have lost a loved one to an accident, consider speaking with an attorney about the possibility of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Texas law (specifically, section 71.001 of the Texas Statutes) defines who may file a wrongful death claim and under what circumstances. If the death was the result of someone else’s “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default,” then a lawsuit becomes a real possibility.
In Texas, the following people are eligible to file a wrongful death claim:
- Spouse, children and parents of the deceased: Any of these people can pursue legal action, either on their own or as a group. The lawsuit must be filed within 90 days of the death.
- Executor or personal representative: If a lawsuit is not filed by the spouse, children or parents within the 90-day window, then legal action may be pursued by the executor or personal representative of the estate. However, a surviving family member can request that the lawsuit not be filed, and that request must be honored.
- Adopted children: Adopted children can file a wrongful death lawsuit if the adoptive parent died, as long as the child was fully and legally adopted. An adopted child cannot file a claim for the death of his/her biological parent.
- Adoptive parents: If an adopted child is killed through the negligence of someone else, the adoptive parents may file a claim.
What if There Is Also a Criminal Case?
There are some situations where the death of a person leads to both a criminal case and a wrongful death lawsuit. These are two very different proceedings.
Any criminal case would be handled by prosecutors, and if someone is found guilty, then that party could face prison time, fines, probation, and any other penalties the criminal system allows. On the other hand, a wrongful death claim is a civil action, separate from any criminal case. If someone is found liable in a wrongful death case, he or she pays monetary damages to the family.
When both types of legal proceedings occur, very often the criminal case comes first. If there is a criminal conviction, then civil liability in a wrongful death lawsuit becomes easier to prove. Families often pursue wrongful death claims in these situations because the criminal case does not provide the family with any financial compensation. Wrongful death cases can be pursued even if no criminal charges are filed.
Advice Is Available
If you lost a loved one in an accident, talk to a lawyer as soon as you can. Remember, Texas wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within 90 days of the incident. Ted B. Lyon & Associates is a law firm with significant experience in these cases and can provide the guidance you deserve. Contact us any time.