When you’re injured in a San Antonio car accident and someone else was to blame, you can typically pursue compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. When you lose a loved one to a motor vehicle crash, the process is a bit different. A wrongful death suit is similar to a personal injury claim. But, Texas law limits who can bring the suit. In this article, we’ll explain who can file a lawsuit, who is entitled to compensation, what’s required to bring a successful wrongful death claim, and what types of damages may be available.
Steps for Filing a San Antonio Wrongful Death Case
When you’re pursuing legal action, it’s generally best to work with an attorney who is experienced with the particular type of case you are pursuing. That’s especially true in the case of a complex matter like a Texas wrongful death claim.
Successfully navigating a wrongful death claim requires extensive knowledge of both substantive law and technical procedures. Identifying responsible parties, gathering and preserving evidence, and working with expert witnesses to establish damages can be challenging. So, your best first step is typically to talk with an attorney who is experienced in handling both car accident cases and wrongful death claims.
The information in this article will give you a general overview of how a car-accident-related wrongful death case works, including:
- Understanding the statute of limitations and other time limits
- Identifying family members who are eligible to sue
- Identifying all possible responsible parties
- Investigating liability and building a case
- Assessing damages and working with experts
- Negotiating a settlement or going to trial
1. Understanding the Statute of Limitations and Other Time Limits
In Texas, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death case is two years from the date of death. It’s important to know that if another family member was injured in the car accident and survived, the deadline to file their personal injury claim and the deadline for filing the wrongful death claim may not be the same. The personal injury statute of limitations begins to run when the accident occurs.
The statute of limitations isn’t the only date to know. In Texas, certain surviving family members have the exclusive right to file a personal injury case for three months from the date of death. After that, the executor of the deceased’s estate may file a claim. As you’ll see in the next section, the family members are the beneficiaries of any settlement or award, whether they bring the case or the executor does. But, if the family wants to control the claim, it’s best to act quickly.
2. Identifying Family Members Who are Eligible to Sue
- Surviving spouse,
- Children, and
Other loved ones and family members, such as siblings, grandchildren, or a long-time unmarried romantic partner, are not entitled to compensation.
All of the eligible surviving family members can bring a wrongful death suit together. Or, any one or more of them can file a wrongful death suit on behalf of the whole group.
One family member can’t file alone and cut the others out, though. There’s no racing one another to court or wrestling over who should receive what from the award. The jury decides how much to award to each family member. However, if the family wants to accept a settlement, they’ll have to negotiate distribution among themselves.
If the executor of the estate brings the suit, the same family members listed above are the only eligible beneficiaries. Any compensation recovered is protected from creditors of the estate.
3. Identifying All Possible Responsible Parties
In Texas, an individual or other entity may be responsible for damages in a wrongful death suit if:
- They caused injury through a wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default, and
- The injury resulted in the victim’s death.
For example, if the deceased person was hit by a drunk driver, or was injured in a collision with someone who was distracted by texting, the negligent driver would likely be liable for damages. But, there may be other possibilities. For instance, if the negligent driver was working at the time of the accident, his or her employer may be legally responsible. Or, if a friend or relative negligently entrusted their vehicle to an intoxicated driver, the vehicle owner may be responsible.
It’s important to explore all possible responsible parties. Leaving someone out could mean recovering only partial damages, or having to settle for less due to low insurance policy limits.
4. Investigating Liability and Building a Case
The specifics of the investigation will vary depending on the nature of the motor vehicle accident, the parties involved, and other factors. Some steps an experienced wrongful death lawyer may take include:
- Assessing insurance coverage and assets available.
- Interviewing witnesses and assessing other evidence, such as video, police reports and photographs.
- Working with expert witnesses to determine and assemble evidence of liability.
- Preparing witnesses for trial.
5. Assessing Damages and Working with Experts
Texas is more generous than some states when it comes to damages in a wrongful death suit. There are three possible types of damages available: losses of surviving family members, damages sustained by the deceased (similar to what the deceased might have recovered in a personal injury case if he or she had survived), and exemplary damages.
Losses suffered directly by surviving family members and those sustained by the deceased may include both economic and non-economic damages. For instance, surviving family members may recover for loss of household income, and also for intangibles like loss of companionship. Establishing the value of economic elements like loss of future earnings typically requires expert witnesses. At The Law Offices of George Salinas, we have extensive experience working with expert witnesses to establish damages, and a network of experts to call upon to help build your case.
Exemplary damages, more commonly known as “punitive damages,” are intended to punish bad behavior that’s detrimental to society. This type of damages is only available in cases where the defendant caused the death willfully or through gross negligence.
6. Negotiating a Settlement or Going to Trial
Some wrongful death claims are settled through negotiation before a suit is filed. Sometimes, a lawsuit is filed and then the parties reach an agreement, so the case never progresses to trial. And, in some cases, the best option for the family is to go to trial. Each process is complicated and has pitfalls. For example, insurance companies don’t always play fair when negotiating a settlement. And, presenting a case to a jury requires strict compliance with technical procedural rules.
Your Best Next Step is to Contact a San Antonio Wrongful Death Attorney
When a loved one is killed in a car accident, surviving family members may be entitled to damages. Either the family or the executor of the deceased’s estate may bring suit to collect the damages. But, establishing the claim can be tricky and expert witnesses are typically required to prove damages such as lost future earnings. So, it’s important to work with an attorney who has the experience, the resources, and the professional network necessary to build a compelling case.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of George Salinas fight for fair compensation for people who have been injured or lost loved ones to someone else’s negligence. We offer free consultations to ensure that you have the information you need to make the best possible decisions under bad circumstances. You can schedule yours right now by calling 210-225-0909 or filling out our contact form or clicking in the lower right corner of this page to chat.
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