When a loved one is killed because of the actions or negligence of a person or entity, close surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death suit against the party they hold responsible. This is a civil action separate from any criminal charges that might be filed – for example, in a drunk driving case.
It’s a common belief that wrongful death suits are brought to seek justice for the person who was killed. However, they’re intended to hold defendants liable for harm done to the surviving loved ones. The deceased person’s estate may be able to bring a separate survival suit for harm they suffered before they died. We’ll get to that later.
What damages can family members seek?
Here in Texas, plaintiffs in a wrongful death suit can include the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children and/or parents They can seek economic and non-economic damages for things like:
- Medical bills
- Burial expenses
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of companionship
- Mental anguish they’ve suffered due to the loss
All wrongful death suits already involve some type of alleged misconduct or negligence on the part of the defendant, or as the law states, a “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.”
However, Texas law also allows defendants to seek additional punitive or “exemplary” damages in cases where the plaintiffs believe the death was caused by the “the wilful act or omission or gross negligence of the defendant.”
How a wrongful death claim differs from a survival claim
Survival claims are brought by the deceased person’s estate. They’re typically brought (in addition to a wrongful death claim) if the victim survived for some period after the incident.
In most cases, loved ones have up to two years after a family member was killed to bring a wrongful death suit. However, this can give people time to process their grief and deal with the changes in their life. It can also allow time for any criminal case to be pursued by prosecutors, which can ultimately help a wrongful death suit. Nonetheless, it’s best to seek legal guidance as soon as possible rather than wait until you’re nearing that two-year mark.