What Is a Valid Wrongful Death Claim?
Death is one of life’s many certainties, as everyone gets to die at some point. However, while some people die due to natural causes, others do because of another person’s negligent act. When a person dies due to another party’s reckless behavior, it results in what is known as wrongful death.
In the event of wrongful death, the deceased person’s spouse or adult children can file a wrongful death claim against the fault party. It is always best to file a lawsuit with a wrongful death lawyer from McDonald Worley. But even with legal representation, it is possible not to recover monetary damages if you do not have a valid claim. This article looks at what makes a valid wrongful death claim amid other things.
What Amounts to a Wrongful Death Action?
Generally, in civil actions, there are two ways people who are wronged by others can get damages. One is through a personal injury lawsuit, and the other through a wrongful death action. Wrongful death originated from common law, and in simple terms, it is a claim against the person liable for the demise of another.
Often, a wrongful death claim accompanies a criminal charge. It is initiated by the fatal victim’s survivors and dependents on behalf of their estate. Thus, for a wrongful death claim to exist, there must be:
- A deceased person
- Elements of negligence
- Involvement of a person who caused the injury or event that led to the victim’s death
A wrongful death lawsuit can stem from any of the following occurrences:
- A motor vehicle accident
- Defective product
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse
- Workplace accidents
In any of the above situations, the victim’s family has the right to bring a legal claim against the responsible party. A wrongful death attorney is always helpful when commencing a civil lawsuit.
What Amounts to a Valid Wrongful Death Action?
For a wrongful death lawsuit to succeed, the plaintiff, through their experienced attorney, must produce evidence that highlights the following:
Duty of Care
Firstly, there is no valid wrongful death claim without a duty of care. This is because the fault party must have breached that duty owed to the victim by performing an act that led to their accidental death. What amounts to “Care” differs from case to case.
In a motor vehicle accident, it means drivers operating a vehicle as a “Reasonable person” would. For product defects, it means manufacturers producing standard goods and warning customers of any side effects. The plaintiff must prove this duty’s existence, and the judge or jury will decide if the negligent party breached it.
Breach of Duty
If a duty exists, there must be a breach, and the plaintiff must present evidence showing the breached duty. For a car accident, it is enough if the plaintiff shows that the party responsible was texting while driving, and the distraction caused the crash. Also, the plaintiff must show that the defendant shared over 50% of the fault as Texas is a comparative negligence state.
The third element is causation. Here, the plaintiff must prove that the victim’s accidental death resulted from the breached duty. For example, it means that if the victim’s medical doctor had not negligently given them the wrong treatment, they would still be alive. For this reason, it is not enough to claim a duty of care and breach. The plaintiff must directly link the victim’s demise to the breached duty. If any other independent reasons — like an existing medical condition — caused the death, the lawsuit will not be valid.
Damages simply mean that the plaintiff suffered a loss or losses due to the victim’s demise. It could be:
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of insurance
- Loss of services
- Loss of care
- Lose of household
- Loss of income
- Loss of life
- Loss of companionship
Losses also cover medical treatment costs, funeral and burial expenses, and mental anguish. Note that the burden of proving the four elements is on the plaintiff. In a civil lawsuit, he who asserts must prove; thus, the plaintiff must show the four elements to have a valid claim.
Also, the plaintiff must be a beneficiary of the deceased victim, like a child or spouse, to file a valid claim. They must show they suffered a real loss. In this vein, an estranged child or spouse cannot claim they suffered a loss due to the victim’s death. Similarly, a plaintiff cannot bring an action on behalf of the victim’s deceased child.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Action?
As mentioned above, a claim would be void ab initio (from the beginning) if the wrong person files it. It means that a wrongful death lawsuit’s validity is very much dependent on who brings the action. So, who can file this legal action in Texas?
Under the state’s wrongful death statute, the victim’s child, spouse, or parent can commence a claim for damages. This rule bars the deceased person’s siblings or grandparents from filing an action. Note that for a child to institute a wrongful death claim, they must be 18 years and above.
If none of the recognized family members files a wrongful death compensation claim within three months of the death, an executor may commence the action on behalf of the decedent’s estate. However, a family member reserves the right to block the executor’s action. If the claim succeeds, all the primary beneficiaries would be entitled to compensatory damages.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Affect Validity?
The Statute of Limitations stipulates the time frame to commence any civil action. It is usually for a limited time, and once it expires, the action becomes statute-barred. Under Texas law, plaintiffs to a wrongful death claim have two years from the time of death to file their lawsuit.
Once the time elapses, the plaintiff’s wrongful death action would no longer be valid. Even if they meet all the requirements mentioned above, the legal action would be void ab initio. However, there are exceptions to the 2-year rule. Contact our attorneys at McDonald Worley to find out what they are.
Does the Comparative Negligence Rule Affect Wrongful Death Actions?
As mentioned earlier, Texas operates a comparative negligence system. To this end, the law looks at the degree of responsibility shared by the fault party and the victim. The responsible party must have a higher percentage of acts of negligence for the plaintiff’s action to succeed.
Therefore, if a deceased person has 51% fault in the accident that led to their death, the plaintiff’s wrongful death lawsuit would be invalid. It simply follows the doctrine that a wrongdoer cannot benefit from their actions.
Hence, before bringing legal action after a loved one’s death, speak with an experienced attorney. The lawyer goes through the evidence to ensure the victim was not at fault. Plus, if they had any liability, the legal counsel would ensure it is below the percentage stipulated by law.
Did You Lose a Loved One Unjustly? Let McDonald Worley Help You!
No one is ever prepared to lose a loved one, even if they know ahead of time of the person’s impending death. It is worse if it is sudden death caused by the negligent behavior of another person. As experienced wrongful death attorneys, we know that relatives of a deceased person deal with several financial hardships while mourning their loss.
We also know that most people fail to file an action in time, and it becomes statute-barred. This doesn’t have to be your story. At McDonald Worley, we have a team of legal experts who are dedicated to helping you get the compensation you deserve.
We will work with you to ensure that you get enough to cover the funeral expenses and future expenses. All you need to do is let us help you. Start by contacting us today to schedule a free case review.