fattorIf you have lost a loved one in a vehicle collision, there is nothing anyone can do or say to make your pain go away. Nothing can replace what you have lost, and no amount of money can provide “just compensation” for your loved one’s wrongful death.
Yet, filing a wrongful death claim is an important part of the recovery process. The financial impact of losing a family member too soon can be significant, and Texas law allows eligible family members to recover compensation for their non-financial losses (i.e. loss of care, companionship, and support) as well. With this in mind, here is a brief overview of what you need to know about filing a wrongful death claim under Texas law:
When Can Family Members File a Claim for Wrongful Death?
Eligible family members can file a wrongful death claim in a broad range of circumstances. Sadly, most fatal car, truck, and SUV accidents are avoidable. If your loved one’s accident could have been avoided, then your family can seek to hold the at-fault driver (or other at-fault party) accountable through a claim for wrongful death. Some common examples of grounds for pursuing wrongful death claims following fatal collisions include:
- Distracted, drowsy, or drunk driving
- Driving under the influence of marijuana or another drug
- Running a red light or stop sign, speeding, or otherwise driving dangerously
- Road defects and maintenance issues
- Vehicle defects and maintenance issues
- Negligent hiring and supervision of truck drivers and other employees
Which Family Members are Eligible to Recover Compensation?
In Texas, only certain family members are eligible to file a claim for wrongful death. Section 71.004 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code states:
“An action to recover damages as provided by this subchapter is for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.”
While many other states allow additional family members to file wrongful death claims or require a claim to be filed on behalf of the decedent’s estate (with any compensation received to be distributed to the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries), this is not the case in Texas. Here, only spouses, children, and parents are eligible to file wrongful death lawsuits.
However, Texas law does allow the estate to file what is known as a “survival” action. If the decedent did not die immediately as a result of the collision, then the decedent’s estate can seek to recover his or her losses prior to death. This includes losses such as medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering.
How Do You File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
The process for filing a wrongful death claim depends on the liable party or parties. However, since most cases involve claims based on driver negligence, most cases start with filing a claim under the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.
When dealing with auto insurance companies, you need to be careful. This is true in all cases, but it is especially important when seeking financial compensation for a loved one’s wrongful death. As a result, we strongly recommend that you speak with a personal injury attorney before trying to deal with the insurance companies on your own.
If another party (i.e. a trucking company or vehicle manufacturer) is legally responsible for your loved one’s death, the process will be very different, and you will need to hire an attorney to pursue compensation on your family’s behalf. While resolving your claim may still ultimately involve negotiating an insurance settlement, you will need to rely on an experienced attorney to fight for the compensation your family deserves.
What Types of Damages Can Eligible Family Members Recover?
The damages that are available in Texas wrongful death cases provide compensation for both financial and non-financial losses. This includes losses such as:
- Loss of future earnings
- Loss of inheritance
- Funeral expenses, burial or cremation expenses, and other out-of-pocket costs
- Loss of advice and counsel
- Loss of care, services, and support
- Loss of companionship and consortium
Additionally, if your family has grounds to pursue a survival action as discussed above, it may be possible to recover compensation for your loved one’s losses incurred prior to death as well.
In limited circumstances, grieving families can also pursue claims for punitive damages. A claim for punitive damages requires evidence of gross negligence, such as driving while intoxicated or knowingly putting others’ lives at risk.
Can You Expect Your Wrongful Death Claim to Settle?
Maybe. While most successful wrongful death claims are resolved via settlement, whether your claim will ultimately settle depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved. This includes everything from the cause of the accident to the insurance company that holds financial responsibility.
Additionally, if you receive a settlement offer, it will be up to you to decide whether to accept. This is an important decision, and it is one that you will need to make based on your attorney’s advice.
How Long Do Families Have to File Wrongful Death Claims in Texas?
Technically, eligible family members have two years to file a wrongful death claim in most cases. However, it is important not to wait any longer than necessary. The deadline for filing your claim could be shorter (i.e. if your loved one was killed in a collision involving a government vehicle), and your attorney will need to preserve all available evidence before it disappears.
What are Your Family’s Next Steps?
If you have lost a loved one in a vehicle collision, your family’s next step is to engage an experienced local auto accident lawyer to assess your legal rights. To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at The Law Office of Joel M. Vecchio, P.C., contact us today.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Plano Wrongful Death Attorney
With offices in Plano, our wrongful death attorneys at the firm represent families in wrongful death claims and survival actions involving vehicle collisions throughout Texas. If you would like to discuss your family’s legal rights in confidence, we encourage you to get in touch. You can contact us 24/7, so call 972-380-4444 or tell us how we can help online now. You pay nothing unless we win.
Distracted driving is among the most-common causes of car accidents in Texas. According to data from the Insurance Information Institute (III), distracted driving is a factor in nearly one in 10 fatal accidents in the United States. Each year, thousands of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians in Texas are injured in distracted driving accidents—and all of these accidents could be avoided if drivers simply paid attention to the road.
Texting While Driving is Illegal In Texas
In Texas, it is illegal to text behind the wheel. It is also illegal to use a handheld phone for any purpose in a school zone, and drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using handheld phones at all times. Unfortunately, these laws do not prevent people from driving distracted. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT):
“In 2019, the total number of crashes on Texas Roads were 561,582. Of those, 97,853 or 17.4%, involved distracted driving (driver distraction, inattention or cell phone use). The 97,853 distracted driving crashes in Texas resulted in 378 deaths and 2,500 serious injuries.”
Drivers who violate Texas’s cell phone laws can be ticketed, but this is not the only consequence of their mistake. Since texting behind the wheel is illegal, it is also considered “negligence per se.”This means that drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who suffer injuries in distracted driving accidents can use the driver’s violation as grounds for seeking financial compensationwithout showing that the driver’s conduct amounted to a breach of their duty of care in light of the specific circumstances at hand.
How Do You Prove the Other Driver was Distracted?
But, even if the driver who hit you (or your loved one) was distracted at the time of the crash, you still need to prove it in order to recover just compensation. So, how do you prove that a driver was distracted behind the wheel?
1. The Driver’s Own Statements At the Scene of the Crash
In some cases, a driver who causes a car accident will admit to being distracted behind the wheel. If the driver who hit you (or your loved one) admitted that he or she was texting, talking on the phone, or otherwise distracted, then your lawyer may be able to use the driver’s own statements to prove your claim for just compensation.
2. The Driver’s Own Statements on Social Media
In addition to admitting to being distracted at the scene of the accident, some negligent drivers will admit to being distracted after the fact on social media. Your lawyer can hire an investigator to examine the other driver’s social media accounts and see if he or she has posted anything that suggests liability for the crash.
3. The Responding Police Officer’s Observations
If the other driver told the responding police officer that he or she was distracted, or if the responding officer had other reason to believe that the driver was distracted, this should be reflected in the police report from the accident. If you don’t have a copy of the police report, your lawyer can obtain a copy on your behalf.
4. Eye Witness Testimony
If there were any witnesses to the accident, your lawyer may be able to obtain their sworn statements when pursuing your claim for damages. Witness testimony can be strong evidence of liability in car accident cases, especially if multiple witnesses had the same observations.
5. Cell Phone Records
In distracted driving cases involving texting, phone calls, and other types of cell phone use, victims’ lawyers can obtain copies of the at-fault drivers’ cell phone records. These records can provide definitive proof that a driver was using his or her phone at the time of a collision.
6. Video Footage of the Driver
Traffic camera, security camera, and cell phone camera footage are all potential sources of proof in distracted driving cases. If there is video footage that shows the other driver using his or her phone before, during, or immediately after the crash, this footage could be crucial evidence in support of your claim for just compensation.
7. Forensic Evidence from the Scene of the Crash
Forensic evidence from the scene of the crash can often be used to prove that a driver was distracted as well. For example, a spilled drink, food crumbs, or a cell phone in the driver’s footwell could serve as evidence that the other driver was paying attention to something other than the road.
How Can You Recover Just Compensation After a Distracted Driving Accident?
Let’s say there is evidence to prove that the driver who hit you (or your loved one) was distracted behind the wheel. What steps do you need to take in order to make sure you and your family receive the compensation you deserve?
- Contact a Lawyer Promptly – In order to prove that the other driver was distracted, you will need to rely on the advice and representation of an experienced auto accident lawyer. You should contact a lawyer as soon after the accident as possible.
- Follow Your Doctor’s Advice – You will need to follow your doctor’s advice in order to recover from your injuries or trauma, and focusing on your recovery will be important to your insurance claim as well.
- Stay On Top of Your Claim – As your insurance claim moves forward, you will need to remain actively involved and ensure that you submit all information required to prove your right to coverage.
- Work Closely with Your Lawyer – By working closely with an experienced car accident lawyer, you can prove the other driver was at fault and accurately calculate the compensation you and your family deserve.
Discuss Your Case with a Plano, TX Car Accident Lawyer for Free
Are you faced with the consequences of someone else’s decision to drive while distracted? If so, it is extremely important that you speak with a lawyer about your situation. For a free, no-obligation consultation with Plano, TX car accident lawyer Joel M. Vecchio, please call 972-380-4444 or request a free consultation online now.