Proving a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas
May 25, 2023
Wrongful death refers to the demise of an individual as a result of the fault (negligence/misconduct) of another person. A wrongful death lawsuit seeks to reimburse the survivor(s) for damages caused by the death of their loved one. For instance, if a father dies in a maritime accident, leaving behind a minor child, the kid is entitled to compensation for the lost financial support and parental guidance.
To successfully file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas, it must satisfy the four elements of negligence. This includes duty, breach, causation, and damages. You must demonstrate that the offender owed the deceased a duty of care and that their breach of duty caused the death resulting in your damages.
Understanding Texas Wrongful Death Laws
In Texas, wrongful death claims seek to compensate the survivor(s) for their damages following the death of their loved one. For any losses incurred during the deceased’s hospitalization following the accident up until their death, you should file a survival of cause action.
That means if the deceased was hospitalized due to the accident, the wrongful death lawsuit should be filed alongside the survival of cause of action. Unlike the former, the latter compensates for the damages the deceased incurred due to the injuries.
According to Texas wrongful death laws, a defendant is liable for damages arising from the death of a person if the injuries were due to the defendant’s or their agent’s/servant’s wrongful act, default, neglect, carelessness, or unskillfulness.
A liable party may also include:
- Proprietor, owner, or hirer of a public utility or industrial plant, steamboat, street railway, stagecoach, or any transportation vessel for goods or passengers or their servant/agent
- Trustee, receiver, or another person in control or in charge of street railway, railroad, stagecoach, steamboat, or any vehicle used to transport goods and passengers or their servant/agent
Texas laws also restrict who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Only the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased may bring the action. If they have not filed the suit within three months after the death of their loved one, the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate can bring the action. Other family members, such as siblings, are not eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas
The validity of a wrongful death claim depends on the plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate the at-fault party’s liability for the death of their loved one. This requires proving the following elements of negligence.
Duty of Care
For the defendant to be held responsible for the injuries that caused the death, they must have owed the deceased person a duty of care. For instance, a truck driver owes other motorists and road users a duty of care to obey traffic rules and drive responsibly.
Determining whether a defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased involves evaluating their contribution to the accident. For example, an equipment manufacturer owes vessel users a duty of care to test all equipment before releasing them into the market. If a maritime accident is caused by a newly installed equipment malfunction, you may be able to demonstrate that the manufacturer owed a duty of care.
Breach of Duty
Once you establish the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care, you must demonstrate how they breached their duty. For example, a speeding 18-wheeler truck driver who crashes into motorists at an intersection breaches their duty to drive responsibly.
Demonstrating the defendant’s actions or inactions amount to a breach of duty requires looking at what was expected of them and what they did or didn’t do to honor their duty. For instance, the 18-wheeler driver should brake from a distance to allow the truck time to stop at the intersection.
Another element that must hold when proving wrongful death in Texas is causation. You must demonstrate that the death was caused by the defendant’s breach of duty, i.e., the death would not have occurred without the defendant’s fault. For example, the truck driver was speeding, failed to brake at the intersection, and crashed into the deceased’s car, causing their death.
A claimant must also demonstrate the damages they have suffered following the wrongful death to be eligible for compensation. Texas restricts wrongful death damages to those suffered by the survivors. It excludes the losses incurred by the deceased during their hospitalization.
Common damages include:
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of inheritance and retirement benefits
- Survivor’s mental and emotional anguish
- Loss of love and companionship
Proving the Elements
Proving the elements of negligence in a wrongful death lawsuit requires providing supporting evidence, including expert testimony.
The evidence shows how the deceased died, who was liable for the death, and the financial losses you’ve incurred following the death. Depending on the circumstances leading to the death, different types of evidence may be available such as:
- Medical records. For instance, if the deceased succumbed to injuries from a railroad accident, records will state the cause of the injuries.
- Death certificate. The document states the decedent’s cause of death.
- Autopsy and police report. Following an accident, law enforcers conduct an investigation and document their findings. An autopsy also helps to establish the cause of death.
- Pay stubs and tax returns. These pieces of evidence help calculate the value of the deceased’s lost wages.
- Physical evidence. Any physical items that can demonstrate the deceased’s injuries, like bloody clothes, also serve as evidence.
Expert witnesses provide specialized knowledge to prove the elements of negligence. They explain complex concepts and provide credible testimony to strengthen the case. There are multiple types of expert witnesses you can engage, depending on the cause of the death. This can include accident reconstructionists, economists, forensic engineers, etc.
Accident reconstructionists and forensic engineers can use their expertise to demonstrate the defendant’s breach of duty and how their fault could have caused the accident and resulting injuries. On the other hand, economists can explain the impact of the deceased’s lost income on the survivors’ quality of life.
Contact Texas Wrongful Death Attorney
If you have lost a loved one through a wrongful death in Texas, you should consider working with an attorney. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the stressful process of proving the death.
Besides reducing the emotional burden, a wrongful death attorney understands the legal intricacies. They can help you investigate the case, gather the necessary evidence, collaborate with experts to calculate fair damages, file the claim, and negotiate with the insurance company.
A lawyer comes in handy, especially in proving the defendant owed your deceased loved one a duty of care. They can help prove that the breach of duty caused the injuries that led to your loved one’s death. In addition, you need to demonstrate the damages you have incurred to be eligible for compensation. In this case, you can count on the lawyer to prepare the necessary supporting evidence.
For more details on Texas wrongful death lawsuit, kindly contact Morrow & Sheppard LLP today!