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Proving Liability in a Texas Wrongful Death Case

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Losing a family member is an emotionally devastating experience, especially when the death results from another party’s negligence or misconduct. In Texas, as in other states, the legal system allows for the deceased’s close relatives to file a wrongful death claim. To succeed in such a case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable for the death of their loved one. Understanding the elements required to establish liability is the foundation of a wrongful death claim in Texas.

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?

Under Texas law, a wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of another individual’s, company’s, or entity’s “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits that seek monetary compensation for the survivors’ loss rather than criminal charges to punish the wrongdoer.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?

Texas law restricts the right to file a wrongful death claim to certain family members. According to the Austin wrongful death attorneys at FVF Law, parties that can bring action to recover damages include:

  • The spouse of the deceased, even in a common-law marriage
  • The parents of the wrongfully deceased
  • The biological children of the wrongfully deceased
  • Legally adopted children of the wrongfully deceased
  • Some combination of these four parties

Siblings and other relatives are not included in this list and, therefore, cannot file wrongful death claims in Texas. If these relatives do not file the claim within three months from the date of death, the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate can file the claim unless a family member specifically requests that no action be taken.

The Four Elements of Liability in a Wrongful Death Case

1. Duty of Care

The first element to establish is that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased. Duty of care refers to the obligation to adhere to a standard of reasonable care to avoid harm to others. For example, motorists have a duty to drive safely to prevent accidents, and manufacturers have a duty to produce products that are not unreasonably dangerous.

2. Breach of Duty

After establishing a duty of care, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty through their actions or failure to act. Any conduct that falls below the established standard of care, like distracted driving or failing to remove known hazards, can be considered a breach of duty.

3. Causation

Proving causation is about linking the defendant’s breach of duty directly to the death. The plaintiff must show that it was the defendant’s actions or omissions that directly led to the fatal incident, not some other unrelated factor. The legal test typically used is whether the death would have occurred “but for” the defendant’s behavior.

4. Damages

Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the death led to quantifiable damages. This includes actual expenses such as medical bills, funeral costs, and lost earning potential of the deceased, as well as more intangible losses, such as loss of companionship and mental anguish.

Tips for a Successful Wrongful Death Claim

  • Collect EvidenceGather all available evidence pertaining to the fatal incident, such as medical records, accident reports, and witness statements, to support your claim.
  • Understand the Law: Familiarize yourself with the specifics of Texas wrongful death statutes, as they will frame your case.
  • Hire an Attorney: Seek out an experienced wrongful death attorney who can help navigate the complexities of the legal system and improve your chance of a successful outcome.
  • Know the Time Limits: Wrongful death claims in Texas must be filed within two years of the date of death, with few exceptions. Acting quickly is imperative.
  • Document Financial Impact: Keep records of all expenses and financial losses related to the death, as well as estimations of the deceased’s future earnings.

Proving liability in a Texas wrongful death case involves establishing that a duty of care was owed and breached by the defendant, leading directly to the death and resulting in damages. The process can be challenging, but with the right evidence and legal guidance, families can hold the responsible parties accountable and receive the compensation they deserve during such a difficult time.

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