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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

San Antonio Wrongful Death AttorneyThe manufacturer of a space heater was recently ordered to pay a Corpus Christi family $37 million. The decedents’ family members brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the Lasko company after they lost both of their parents in a house fire. The Lasko company manufactured the space heater that was responsible for starting the fire that trapped Martin and Angelita Enriquez in their home. The space heater was made in China, and was described by the family’s attorney as a “ticking time bomb.” The attorney hoped the jury’s verdict would send a strong message to manufacturers who are tempted to cut corners in production.

If you lost a loved one due to an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible for compensation. An experienced wrongful death attorney can explain your legal options to you. Contact the Law Offices of George Salinas to schedule a free consultation.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death is defined as the death of a human being due to a wrongful act. Wrongful acts that may form the basis of a wrongful death claim include:

  • Negligence, which is a common claim in wrongful death lawsuits resulting from motor vehicle accidents.
  • An intentional act, such as an assault.
  • A death that occurs during the commission of another crime, such as a death from an accident caused by a drunk driver.
  • A death caused by a defective product, such as the lawsuit mentioned above.
  • A death caused by a medical error.

In Texas, wrongful death lawsuits may be filed against any party that is liable for a person’s death. For example, corporations or governmental agencies may be liable for a person’s death. If employees, serving as representatives for the company, cause a death due to their own negligence, the company may be responsible. For example, a company may be liable for a semi-truck accident caused by the driver’s negligence. Employers have a duty to responsibly hire, train, and entrust the drivers serving as company representatives.

Texas law allows wrongful death actions against individuals or entities whose carelessness, willful act, or negligence caused the death of an unborn child. However, a wrongful death claim may not be brought against the unborn child’s mother. Additionally, a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought at any stage of gestation.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas?

Only immediate family members or the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Parties that may bring a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • The deceased’s spouse;
  • The deceased’s children, even if they’re adults;
  • The deceased’s parents;
  • The adoptive parents of a deceased child, as long as the adoption was legal;
  • The adoptive child of the deceased; and
  • The executor or administrator of the estate, as long as none of the family members eligible for the action have filed a lawsuit within three months after the death without objection.

Any of the above-listed family members may file the claim. The law does not designate which family member should file. Many times, the family members group together and file the lawsuit jointly. The damages recovered are intended to compensate family members for losses incurred due to the loss of their loved one. Damages you may recover in a wrongful death action may include:

  • Loss of future earning capacity,
  • Loss of future inheritance,
  • Costs of household services that were formerly performed by the decedent,
  • Loss of companionship,
  • Loss of parental guidance,
  • Loss of consortium (physical intimacy that the spouse can no longer share with the decedent), and
  • Loss of support and guidance.

In cases where the defendant’s actions causing death were particularly egregious, punitive damages may be awarded. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior in the future. Punitive damage awards are common in cases involving products liability. The court awarded punitive damages in the faulty space heater that resulted in the Enriquez deaths in Corpus Christi.

In Texas, the decedent’s estate may also file a survival action. Survival actions are often filed in concert with a wrongful death action. A survival action allows the estate to sue liable parties for injuries sustained by the decedent. The estate represents the decedent as though he or she was alive and eligible for compensation for the injuries suffered. Survival actions may provide damages for pain and suffering experienced by the decedent as a result of his or her injuries before death. Families may also be compensated for medical expenses the decedent incurred before death. Additionally, damages may be awarded to cover burial expenses.

Who Is Exempt From Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Some family members are ineligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The decedent’s siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren may not file a wrongful death claim. Spouses must be legally married or establish the validity of a common-law marriage to file. Long-term partners, without proof of legal or common law marriage are also ineligible.

Stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who are unable to prove paternity may be exempt from filing a lawsuit. Biological parents who have had their parental rights terminated are also ineligible for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Similarly, if a child has been legally adopted, he or she may not file a claim for the death of a biological parent. The father of an unborn child may not file a wrongful death lawsuit in the child’s death without proving paternity. Additionally, the father may not file a lawsuit against the unborn child’s mother.

For More Information

An unexpected death is tragic and difficult for loved ones to process. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can be both complex and time consuming without the guidance of an experienced attorney. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s carelessness, recklessness, willful actions, or negligence, contact an attorney. You undoubtedly have a lot of questions about the process, and a wrongful death lawyer can answer those questions for you.

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