If 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.