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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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Losing a loved one is an incredibly painful experience, especially when it happens due to someone else’s negligence or misconduct. In such cases, the surviving family members may pursue justice through a wrongful death lawsuit. But what constitutes wrongful death, and how does one navigate the legal process after such a tragedy? The lawyers from Grimes & Fertitta are here to answer these questions and more.

If you have lost a relative or close friend as the result of someone else’s misdeeds or carelessness, you need an advocate. Working with a Houston wrongful death lawyer from Grimes & Fertitta means getting professional legal help from an experienced litigator who will work tirelessly to pursue justice on your behalf.

Call Grimes & Fertitta today at (713) 224-7644 for help with your wrongful death lawsuit, and continue reading to find out more about how wrongful death works in Texas.

What is the legal definition of wrongful death?

A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of another individual or entity. In legal terms, it is a civil action brought by the surviving family members or beneficiaries of the deceased against the party responsible for the death. Under Texas law, wrongful death is governed by the Texas Wrongful Death Act, which allows certain family members to seek compensation for their losses.

In Texas, the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person are typically eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased doesn’t have any of these family members, other relatives who were dependent on the deceased for financial support may also be able to pursue legal action.

How do you prove a wrongful death has occurred?

When our clients ask us, “What is a wrongful death lawsuit?”, most of them are actually asking what is required to prove an instance of wrongful death.

To pursue legal action you’ll have to prove that negligence occurred and that it caused the wrongful death. The elements of negligence include establishing a duty of care, proving a breach of that duty, linking that breach to the wrongful death, and damages resulting from it. To successfully prove wrongful death, you must prove the following:

  1. That the death was caused wholly or to some extent by the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness
  2. This negligence was a breach of duty to the victim, meaning that it was the defendant’s duty to provide safety or care to the victim
  3. How this breach of duty caused the death of the victim
  4. And that because of this death, the surviving family members of the victim incurred significant damages (medical expenses, funeral costs, potential income, pain and suffering, and more)

What are examples of wrongful death?

Wrongful death can arise from various circumstances, including:

  • Car accidents. When a person dies in a car accident caused by another driver’s negligence, such as speeding, drunk driving, or distracted driving, it may lead to a wrongful death claim.
  • Medical malpractice. If a healthcare provider’s negligence or error results in a patient’s death, it can be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. This might include surgical errors, misdiagnosis, or medication mistakes.
  • Workplace accidents. Fatalities occurring on the job due to unsafe working conditions, lack of proper training, or employer negligence can lead to wrongful death claims. This includes construction accidents, industrial accidents, or exposure to toxic substances.
    Defective products. If a defective product causes someone’s death, such as a malfunctioning vehicle part or a dangerous pharmaceutical drug, the manufacturer or distributor may be held liable for wrongful death. (Learn how a Houston product liability lawyer can help win your case.)
    Intentional acts. In some cases, wrongful deaths result from intentional acts, such as assault, homicide, or manslaughter. Surviving family members can pursue both criminal charges and civil action against the responsible party.

Read more: What Is a Catastrophic Injury?

What is not a wrongful death lawsuit?

Personal injury lawsuits do not bring criminal charges. This distinction means that when an individual or institution is sued for wrongful death, they are not being charged with murder. It also indicates that the burden of proof for murder and the burden of proof for wrongful death is different.

Perhaps the most frequently referenced examples of how these two legal classifications differ are the criminal and civil trials of O.J. Simpson. In 1995, Simpson was tried for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson, his ex-wife, and Ronald Lyle Goldman, her friend, in a criminal trial. He was found Not Guilty on both counts; the jury felt that the case against him had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In 1997, however, the families of Brown and Goldman won wrongful death lawsuits against Simpson in a civil trial, after which they received punitive and compensatory damages. The jury found him liable because the cases of wrongful death had been proved with a preponderance of evidence.

Is wrongful death a felony?

Wrongful death itself is not considered a felony. Instead, it’s a civil matter that allows surviving family members to seek compensation for their losses. However, if the death occurred due to criminal negligence or intentional harm, the responsible party may face criminal charges, such as manslaughter or murder, in addition to civil liability for wrongful death.

The current wrongful death statute of limitations Texas has on the books is generally two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. It’s essential to act within this time frame to preserve your legal rights and pursue the compensation you deserve.

What is crucial when collecting evidence for wrongful death?

Collecting evidence is vital in proving liability and obtaining fair compensation in a wrongful death case. Some crucial steps to take include:

  • Gather documentation. Collect any documents related to the incident, such as police reports, medical records, and eyewitness statements.
    Preserve physical evidence. Preserve any physical evidence, such as vehicle wreckage or defective products, that may help establish liability.
    Document damages. Keep records of financial losses, including funeral expenses, medical bills, lost income, and loss of companionship.
    Consult experts. Depending on the nature of the case, expert testimony from medical professionals, accident reconstructionists, or forensic specialists may strengthen your claim.
    Seek legal guidance. A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney can guide you through the evidence collection process, ensuring that crucial information is not overlooked and advocating for your rights in negotiations or court proceedings.

Steps in a wrongful death lawsuit

After our clients ask, “What is a wrongful death lawsuit?” their follow-up questions typically revolve around the wrongful death lawsuit process. Frankly, much must occur in between the moment you discover your loved one has been killed to the moment you receive compensation. Here is a general breakdown of what a wrongful death lawsuit will involve.

1. Determining your eligibility to file a claim

In Texas, the spouse, children (of any age), legally adopted children, parents, surviving adoptive parents, or executor of the estate of the deceased may file a wrongful death claim jointly or otherwise. Siblings and grandparents of the deceased may not file wrongful death claims.

The estate executor must wait three months after the death before filing a claim, and the executor may not file a claim if a family member has done so within those three months or has legally blocked the estate from filing a claim.

Who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit?

In Texas, the judge or jury will typically divide the compensation amongst the remaining family members affected by the death, taking into account the demonstrated financial losses of each individual family member.

Statute of limitations

In Texas, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death. There are exceptions to this rule, including:

  • You discovered that negligence caused the death only after the two-year period had passed (and provided you did your due diligence in discovering the misconduct or negligence up to that time).
  • You were a minor at the time of the wrongful death
  • You suffered a mental or physical impairment during the two-year period that prevented you from filing suit.

2. Finding a lawyer

Once you’ve established whether or not you’re eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you’ll want to find a lawyer. Wrongful death is a part of personal injury law, so prospective clients should search for a personal injury lawyer in Houston. Some law firms will have more experience than others in handling different types of wrongful death cases. So, try to find a firm that has won cases comparable to yours.

One way to narrow your search is to look up personal injury lawyers by the cause of injury or death. For example, you can search for a Houston car accident lawyer, a Houston brain injury lawyer, a Houston product liability lawyer, etc.

Seek out a firm that has a demonstrated track record, communicates well with its clients, maintains a reasonable caseload, and has the resources necessary to find evidence and provide expert witnesses.

3. Determining whether or not you have a case

Here is where knowing the answer to the question “What is a wrongful death lawsuit?” really comes in handy. You and your wrongful death lawyer will want to work together to establish whether or not you have or can build a successful case for proving wrongful death based on the four elements described above.

Your lawyer may be able to help you recover and/or discover helpful evidence and gather the expert witnesses required to substantiate your claims.

4. Beginning settlement negotiations

It often saves time if you and the defendant are able to settle out of court, and a skilled lawyer will be more qualified to negotiate on your behalf. However, we encourage you to be wary of lawyers who pursue settlements against your best interests. Should the defendant fail to agree to a settlement figure that compensates you adequately for your loss, only top-quality wrongful death lawyers have what it takes to prepare for and go to trial.

Have you lost a loved one due to another’s negligence? Call Grimes & Fertitta.

Navigating the aftermath of a wrongful death can be overwhelming, especially while coping with grief and emotional distress. What is a wrongful death lawsuit, if not a means for grieving families to seek accountability and financial compensation for the loss of their loved ones?

At Grimes & Fertitta, we understand the challenges you’re facing and are here to provide compassionate support and experienced legal representation. Our team of dedicated attorneys has a proven track record of helping families in Houston seek justice and get the wrongful death lawsuit payout they deserve.

Whether your loved one’s death was due to a car accident, medical malpractice, workplace injury, or any other form of negligence, we will work tirelessly to hold the responsible parties accountable and secure a favorable outcome for you and your family. Call us at (713) 224-7644, or schedule a free online consultation to discuss your case with one of our wrongful death attorneys, and get the closure you need.


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