When someone dies before their time, the results can be devastating for family, friends, and those who loved them. In addition to the grief and emotional loss, loved ones may have to cope with medical and funeral expenses, income loss, and quality of life changes.
When a loved one dies as a result of someone else’s carelessness or negligence, the guilty party may face criminal charges. However, even if someone is found guilty in a criminal trial, it doesn’t compensate the family and loved ones for their financial and emotional losses. Instead, survivors may need to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to help them recover their damages and move forward.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit holds a party liable in court for the negligence that caused the death of a loved one and seeks financial damages for the loss. Because wrongful death cases are civil, and not criminal, cases, there are a few important factors:
- Different standards of proof. In a criminal case, a person needs to be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a wrongful death case, a person can be found guilty “by a preponderance of the evidence.” The lower standard of proof means that it may be easier to hold someone liable in a wrongful death lawsuit than in a criminal case.
- Different statute of limitations. In Texas, some felony offenses have a ten-year statute of limitations, and many serious crimes have no statute of limitations at all, and police can investigate and prosecute suspects many years after the crime. In a Dallas wrongful death case, the statute of limitations is two years, after which surviving family members cannot file a lawsuit.
- Different penalties. Finally, criminal and civil cases have very different penalties because law enforcement is working in the public interest, while a lawsuit is in the private interest of a family. Criminal penalties for negligently causing the death of another person may include fines or jail time. Civil penalties for wrongful death are financially intended to compensate loved ones for their expenses and losses as a result of the death.
These two types of cases are not mutually exclusive. If a person or entity caused loss of life through their negligence, they may be investigated by the police and found guilty in criminal court. They may also be sued by the surviving family members and found financially liable. Both types of cases are possible and often go together.
There is also a close relationship between personal injury and wrongful death. The types of damages recoverable in a personal injury case are also recoverable in a wrongful death case. If a person was injured as a result of the carelessness of someone else, begins the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit, and then dies of their injuries, their surviving family members can convert the personal injury suit into a wrongful death suit.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Dallas?
While many people may be affected by the death of a loved one or family member, not everyone is able to file a wrongful death claim in Dallas. Texas law specifies that only the following people are able to file a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Surviving legal spouses. A person who is legally married or married by common law to the decedent, even if they are separated at the time, is allowed to file a wrongful death claim. Non-married partners and spouses who completed a divorce before the death are not allowed to file a claim.
- Surviving children. Biological and legally adopted children are allowed to file a wrongful death claim. If the children are minors at the time of the death, the statute of limitations for their claim doesn’t start until they turn 18. Not all step-children or custodial children are allowed to file a claim, and Texas adoption issues can complicate a wrongful death claim. It is best to consult with a Dallas wrongful death lawyer to understand whether adoptive children are eligible to file a wrongful death claim.
- Surviving parents. The parents of a decedent, including adoptive parents, can file a wrongful death claim. If a parent is not listed on the birth certificate, they may not be able to file a claim and should consult with a Dallas wrongful death attorney.
- The executor or estate representative. If the surviving family members do not file a wrongful death claim within three months, an estate representative may file on their behalf.
Generally speaking, all the survivors file a single wrongful death claim together and sue for all their damages at once, acting on behalf of the estate, minor children, and other surviving family members.
Modern family relationships are complex and changing and may not fit into the standard definitions set by Texas law. Same-sex couples, blended families, custodial grandparents, and other family members may be deeply affected by the loss of the deceased and should talk with a Texas wrongful death lawyer to understand their rights.
The Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death
Wrongful death is caused by the carelessness or negligence of someone who has a responsibility to care for the safety of others. There are many situations where a person or entity can be held responsible for the death of someone else, and here are some of the most common:
Interpersonal violence, whether accidental or deliberate, is another common cause of wrongful death lawsuits. Family members of victims of accidental shootings, assaults, and other fatal incidents often hold the perpetrator responsible with a wrongful death suit.
Recoverable Wrongful Death Damages in Texas
If you have lost a loved one, no amount of money can fully compensate you for the grief and suffering you experience. However, the death of a loved one or family member can also have real financial impacts that cause unnecessary hardship. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of someone else, you may be able to recover:
- Lost earning capacity. If the decedent worked and contributed to the household income, you may be able to recover damages for the loss of their contribution.
- Lost care and support. The decedent would have helped to support and care for their loved ones, providing advice and emotional stability to the family.
- Loss of love and companionship. Without the loved one, the surviving family members lack the companionship and camaraderie of the decedent.
- Loss of inheritance. In many cases, the decedent would have worked and saved money to leave to their family members after their death.
- Mental distress and suffering. Naturally, surviving members may be feeling pain and distress and may even have expenses related to therapy and treatment for their suffering.
- Actual costs and expenses. In many wrongful death claims, the family and loved ones have recoverable out-of-pocket expenses like funeral and burial costs or the costs of medical care and treatment provided to the loved one before they passed away.
- Punitive damages. In cases of extreme negligence, a judge may also award excess financial damages in order to penalize the liable party and act as a deterrent.
Every case is different, and it is important to consult with a Dallas wrongful death lawyer to understand what damages may apply in your case.
Dallas Contingency Lawyers on Your Case
In times of grief, you don’t need the added worry of legal bills along with everything else. Because Aaron Allison works on a contingency basis, you never have to worry about lawyer’s fees or legal costs until you win your case. This lets you focus on your needs and your family instead of worrying about attorney fees.
Starting Your Wrongful Death Case is a Phone Call Away
The Law Offices of Aaron Allison offer free consultations to learn more about your case and help you understand your rights. To speak with a Dallas wrongful death lawyer, call 512-474-8346 or contact us online today. Texas law limits the amount of time available to pursue a wrongful death claim, so don’t delay.