Losing a loved one under any circumstances can be traumatic and heartbreaking, but when someone you love dies due to the negligence of another person, that grief can be multiplied and be accompanied by anger and other emotions. If the decedent was the main breadwinner in your family, you may now be facing extreme financial hardship. Medical bills from treatment before death can pile up and leave you feeling overwhelmed on top of the stew of other feelings you experience.
Under Texas law, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for your loved one’s death and recover not only damages for costs incurred but also for things like emotional pain, loss of companionship, mental anguish, lost earning capacity of the decedent, lost inheritance, and the loss of value of household services previously provided by the decedent.
An experienced wrongful death attorney can evaluate your case and help you determine which types of damages are appropriate in your situation. Texas law allows you two years from the date of the death to file your lawsuit. This is known as the statute of limitations, and is a firm deadline. Waiting too long to file your lawsuit will prevent you from recovering anything at all, no matter how meritorious your claims are. It’s wise to contact an attorney as soon as possible; wrongful death cases are complicated, and suits can take time to properly prepare.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The law in Texas specifically sets forth the individuals who are permitted to file a wrongful death suit and all are family members of the decedent. They include the decedent’s surviving spouse, parents, and children. Adopted children may file suits if the adoption was completed before the parent’s death, and adopted parents may file a wrongful death claim for their adopted children under the same conditions. These family members may file their claims together or individually. An attorney can help you determine which option is best for your situation.
Types of Wrongful Death Damages
In Texas, damages in wrongful death suits are divided into three categories: economic, non-economic, and exemplary damages.
- Economic damages are intended to compensate for actual monetary losses and include such things are medical and rehabilitation costs. It can also include the loss of past and future wages.
- Non-economic damages are awarded to a plaintiff (the person who brings the suit) to compensate for mental or emotional anguish, loss of consortium, disfigurement, physical impairment, loss of companionship, or pain and suffering of the survivors as well as that suffered by the decedent before death. These costs are more difficult to calculate, but they are legitimate damages the law allows for their recovery.
- Exemplary damages (sometimes referred to punitive damages) are only awarded in certain cases where the plaintiff can show that the was caused by fraud, malice, or gross negligence. They are intended to punish the responsible party for especially egregious behavior.
Establishing Damage Amounts
The amount of different types of damages are established in different ways. In some cases, experts should be brought in to perform calculations to determine the amount and for others, simply keeping track of bills is enough.
Because economic damages are those that reflect actual monetary costs, these are proven by providing receipts and proof of wages. It is important to keep documentation of any costs incurred during the treatment of your loved one before death. You should keep track of the cost of hospital stays, surgeries, ambulance transportation, any therapy services, and medication.
You may also recover any wages your family member lost before death and those that he or she would have earned in the future. Wages for days missed at work before death, as well as any tips, commissions, or retirement benefits the decedent would have earned during this time should all be accounted for. Accounting for future wages is not so cut and dried, but can be calculated by an actuary who will consider wages at the time of death, life expectancy, potential increases in wages over the life expectancy, and the time value of money.
In addition, you may recover for the value of services your family provided. This includes things like childcare, home maintenance and other services you may now be required to hire someone to perform.
These damages are calculated by a jury if your case goes to trial or in negotiations with the other party if you reach a settlement offer. A jury will hear evidence from your attorney concerning how your family member affected your family dynamic and the magnitude of that person’s loss in your lives. You as a family member may be called to testify. If you are seeking damages for the pain and suffering your loved one experienced before death, it may be necessary to call some type of expert witness who can testify to the pain levels of those experiencing the specific kind of injury your family member suffered.
Exemplary damages are left entirely to the jury to determine. Remember that these are only awarded if the jury determines that the defendant was grossly negligent. The amount of exemplary damages is capped at $200,000, or two times the amount of economic damages up to a maximum of $750,000. For example, if you are awarded $150,000 in economic damages and $100,000 in non-economic damages, your exemplary damages will be capped at $400,000 ($150,000 x 2 = $300,0000, then add $100,000 for a total of $400,000).
Call a Wrongful Death Attorney for Answers to Your Questions
Experiencing the death of a loved one due to the fault of another person is an ordeal no one should have to go through. You can be left with a mountain of medical bills, an uncertain future, and unspeakable grief. An experienced San Antonio wrongful death attorney can help set you on the right path to recovery.