The grief of losing a loved one cannot be understated. Shortly following someone’s death, funeral arrangements must be made. Family members will often gather together, some traveling from far away, to celebrate the life that has been lost. It is often the last thing on anyone’s mind to take legal action. Many families choose not to file a wrongful death suit because they do not want to be involved in litigation for months or even years.
Cesar Ornelas Injury Law would like to provide you with information on Texas wrongful death suits and what type of evidence is needed to prove liability.
What is Wrongful Death?
Nationally, 9,560 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the first quarter of 2022.
Texas law defines “wrongful death” as an injury that results in another person’s death. A person can be found liable for wrongful death if the injury was caused by neglect, carelessness, or a failure to fulfill an obligation, known as “default.”
A wrongful death suit can involve a motor vehicle collision, workplace injuries, and medical malpractice, to name a few. A wrongful death can also include an unborn or stillborn child.
Who is Able to File a Wrongful Death Suit?
Only certain relatives are able to file a wrongful death suit. In the law, this is known as “standing.” Under the Texas Wrongful Death Act, the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, and parents can take legal action. Siblings of the deceased are not permitted to bring a wrongful death suit to court.
If, after three months, none of the above close relatives have filed a suit, then the deceased’s personal representative is allowed to file a cause of action. A cause of action is a set of facts or circumstances that allow a party to seek relief in court. A wrongful death suit compensates a spouse, children, or parents for their loved one’s death. This recovery of money strives to make the family members whole again.
What is the Texas Survival Statute?
The heirs, personal representative, and estate can take action on behalf of the deceased under the Texas survival statute. The survival statute aims to recover losses for the health, reputation, and well-being of the deceased. It is treated as a separate personal injury suit as if the deceased were still alive.
The suit can still be filed if the liable party has died, and it will proceed as if the liable party is still alive. In this situation, legal action can be taken against the liable party’s personal representative, meaning that the estate will need to pay out any damages.
What is Needed to Prove a Wrongful Death Case?
To prevail in a wrongful death case, you must show the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim
- The defendant breached that duty of care
- Because of the defendant’s breach, the defendant caused the death of your loved one
- Because of the defendant’s carelessness or negligence, the plaintiff suffered measurable losses
In the case of a drunk driver, all drivers owe other road users a duty of care when operating their vehicles. When a driver gets behind the wheel inebriated, they automatically violate that duty of care.
If the evidence clearly shows that the liable party’s actions directly caused your loved one’s death, you can most likely expect to resolve your case sooner.
Is There a Statute of Limitations?
A wrongful death claim can only be brought to court for two years following your loved one’s death. This limitation is put into place so that key evidence is still accessible in order to support your claim.
There are a few exceptions that can toll the statute of limitations, meaning that the time limitation to file a wrongful death suit is temporarily paused or delayed from starting.
The statute of limitations can be tolled under the following circumstances:
- You are under the age of 18: if you lost your parent while you were a child, you have two years after turning 18 to file a wrongful death suit.
- You did not have actual or constructive knowledge of the death: if your loved one died and you did not know or should not have known (constructive knowledge) that they died, then the cause of action will not arise until the date you knew or should have known, of your family member’s death.
- Deception: If the person who is responsible for your loved one’s death hid their negligence contributing to your family member’s death, then the statute of limitations will not begin until you find out about the liable party’s involvement
- You are incapacitated: If you were mentally or physically incapacitated at the time of your loved one’s death, then the statute of limitations will not start until you are of sound mind. For instance, you could be incapacitated if you were in the same accident as your loved one.
Texas Statute of Repose
According to the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 16.008 and 16.009, a person is able to bring a cause of action against an architect, engineer, or interior designer who was involved in the construction of real property which created an unsafe condition.
The home improvement itself could have been declared hazardous or may have involved unsafe or defective equipment that ultimately caused your loved one’s demise.
In this situation, a cause of action for wrongful death can be brought for 10 years following a person’s passing. With a longer limitation period, evidence will have deteriorated, making it more difficult to prove your case.
How Long Does the Entire Process Take?
After your case has been filed with the court, there are a few factors that will determine the length of a wrongful death case:
- How long it takes to appoint a personal representative of the estate (known as an estate administrator if the deceased died without creating a valid will)
- Gathering evidence from survivors
- Accessibility of information during the discovery process (the formal pre-trial process of gathering information from both sides to prepare for trial)
- Interviewing witnesses
- Making a claim for damages, presenting medical bills, and negotiating a settlement
If the case does go to trial, it could end up taking as long as four years from start to finish. The process is lengthened for trials where a jury has to be selected.
A San Antonio Wrongful Death Lawyer by Your Side
The death of a loved one can leave your world shaken. Although a wrongful death suit cannot bring your family member back, it can help you gain closure. Contact the wrongful death lawyers at Cesar Ornelas Injury Law today to schedule your free case evaluation.
Originally from Kyle, Texas, Mr. Ornelas is a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation attorney.
Licensed in Texas, Cesar Ornelas’s nationwide practice is entirely contingency fee-based and consists of a wide variety of catastrophic personal injury and death cases. He has represented countless victims of catastrophic accidents across the United States.