Death is inevitable for everyone, but often our loved ones are taken from us long before we’re ready to let them go. Recklessness and negligence can have tragic consequences. Texas law allows the surviving family members to fight for justice in a lawsuit known as a wrongful death lawsuit. Money cannot bring your loved one back, but financial compensation can help ease the burden of losing an income, funeral expenses, and therapy costs. There is, however, a time limit on this type of claim, known as the wrongful death statute of limitations. Texas law has many rules (and very few exceptions) regarding wrongful death lawsuits. The wrongful death attorneys at Reich & Binstock can answer any questions you may have about a wrongful death action.
A Texas wrongful death attorney from Reich & Binstock can help you and your family through this incredibly difficult time. Begin your attorney-client relationship today and schedule a free consultation by calling (713) 622-7271.
What Is Wrongful Death in Texas?
Let’s first explore what exactly constitutes a wrongful death. Under Texas law, a death has to meet three criteria to qualify as a wrongful death:
- The victim’s death (or failure to be born alive) occurred due to an injury,
- The injury stemmed from another party’s negligence, recklessness, or wrongful act, AND
- The deceased person would be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit if they had survived.
Keep in mind that it is possible to have a survival action instead of a wrongful death claim. Survival actions arise when the victim initially survives, but later succumbs to their injuries from the accident. Read our related blog to learn more about the differences between wrongful death vs survival action claims.
What Is a Statute of Limitation?
A statute of limitations is a law that determines the amount of time someone has to pursue any kind of legal action. The Texas statute of limitations applies to both criminal court and civil court proceedings. This time limit helps preserve evidence and ensures that the lawsuit is done promptly. Unfortunately, this also puts a grieving family against the clock. Hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney from Reich & Binstock can protect your right to seek compensation. We can provide support during this difficult time and make sure the clock doesn’t run out on your rights.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
The Texas wrongful death statute of limitations is two years from when your loved one’s death occurred. This means that the surviving family members have two years to begin a wrongful death case to recover compensation from the negligent party.
What Happens if the Statute of Limitations Expires?
If the statute of limitations for wrongful death expires before you file a wrongful death claim, you are prohibited from seeking compensation. This is why it’s imperative to begin the legal process by contacting the qualified attorneys at Reich & Binstock. There are, however, exceptions to this two-year statute.
Are There Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations?
Exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations can apply in some cases. If the surviving family member is a minor child, the statute of limitations does not begin until the child’s 18th birthday. Minor children cannot begin a claim for themselves, but guardians of the child can always begin a wrongful death claim on behalf of the child.
In some cases, surviving family members are injured in the same accident that caused the deceased’s death. This can cause a mental or physical impairment that prevents the injured person from pursuing a wrongful death action.
In cases where the negligence was unknown and discovered at a later date, the statute of limitations starts after the negligence is discovered.
How Do I Know if I Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas?
It can be difficult to cope with the sudden death of a loved one, and the Texas wrongful death statutes can be hard to interpret. To file a wrongful death claim in Texas, you have to meet a few qualifications. You must first prove that the unfortunate death was caused by some form of negligence or wrongful act. This consists of four elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and losses. Take a car accident, for example. Drivers have a duty to drive safely and follow the rules of the road. When this duty is breached, such as speeding through a red light, accidents can happen.
Car accidents can cause life-threatening injuries. Your loved one may survive for a few days or weeks but, eventually, die due to the injuries from the car accident. You and your legal team must prove that the accident was caused by negligence. In this case, the other driver neglected to follow the rules of the road by speeding and failing to stop at the red light. This caused the accident. Finally, you must prove that the death caused damages. This can include lost wages, medical expenses, and even loss of companionship.
You also have to make sure you are one of the parties allowed to file a wrongful death claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Texas law has strict rules about which surviving family members can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Parents, children, and the surviving spouse are the only parties who can file a wrongful death claim. Close friends, siblings, and significant others who are not married cannot pursue compensation for a loved one’s death. If a claim is not filed within three months of the death, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file the suit.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim for an Unborn Child?
Texas law allows surviving family members to seek compensation for the death of an unborn child if negligence or wrongful acts caused the death. This covers fetuses of all gestational ages from fertilization to birth. The wrongful death claim cannot be filed against the child’s mother or any medical personnel providing proper medical care to the mother and fetus. If the death of the fetus was caused by medical malpractice or another type of negligent act, you could pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
Damages for Wrongful Death Claims
At Reich & Binstock, our compassionate attorneys support you through every step of this devastating time in your life. Our law firm fights for maximum compensation for you and your family. In wrongful death cases, compensation falls into three categories: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Many economic damages can be thought of as any losses from the time of the injury until the loved one’s death. Economic damages are direct financial losses, such as:
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Grief counseling
- Lost earning capacity
The purpose of economic damages is to replace the money lost as a result of the injury.
After an untimely death, the loss of a loved one’s life is not the only loss the family experiences. Non-economic damages are intended to provide compensation for non-financial losses. This can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
Punitive damages (or exemplary damages) can be awarded if the death was the result of a willful act or gross negligence. These damages punish the negligent party and discourage others from acting similarly. Situations of this can include drunk or impaired drivers, grossly negligent medical staff, and others.
Is There a Cap on Wrongful Death Claims in Texas?
Texas law does not put a cap on wrongful death claims overall, but there is a limit on certain aspects of wrongful death compensation. Economic damages do not have any limit. Non-economic damages are also unlimited except in the case of a medical malpractice claim. Then the cap for non-economic damages is $250,000 for individual medical providers and $250,000 per facility (up to $500,000 for facilities in total).
The cap for exemplary damages is based on the economic and non-economic compensation award. The cap for punitive damages is 2 times the amount of economic damages (or $200,000, whichever is greater) plus the amount of non-economic damages up to $750,000.
To make this a little easier to understand, let’s do some math. You are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit after a loved one died in a car accident caused by a driver speeding through a stop sign. The court awarded $1 million in economic damages and $800,000 in non-economic damages. The maximum punitive award possible would be $2,750,000 (two times the economic damage and up to $750,000 in non-economic damages). This would mean a total award of $4,550,000.
Experienced Texas Wrongful Death Lawyers
Many surviving family members may be reluctant to file a wrongful death lawsuit. They may believe that it will cause the grief and pain to feel never-ending. They may believe that the legal process is extensive and are not prepared to go to court. Remember that you are not placing a dollar amount on their life. You are fighting for justice and trying to limit the suffering you and your family are going through. A skilled wrongful death attorney from Reich & Binstock can make this process as smooth as possible. For legal representation you can trust, contact a personal injury attorney at Reich & Binstock today. Schedule your free consultation to go over the details of your case at (713) 622-7271.