Need To File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things we will ever face in life. If that loss was due to the negligence of another, the pain and frustration are even harder to bear. When you lose a loved one in an accident or due to the carelessness of a person or company, you have a right to compensation for that wrongful death. While nothing can ever replace that husband or wife, son or daughter, mother or father, the law gives you the right to seek at least some measure of justice.
Wrongful Death Laws in Texas
Every state has its own laws that govern what happens when someone dies and someone else is to blame. If a loved one has died, you should have an attorney evaluate your case who is thoroughly familiar with the Texas Wrongful Death Statute and can tell you how the law applies in your case.
The law sets out a statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Texas. This is the deadline for taking formal legal action after the death occurred. Generally speaking, this statute of limitations is two years from the date of your loved one’s death. While there are exceptions that may extend this deadline, you cannot be sure one of these exceptions applies to your case without careful analysis by a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney.
If you assume that you have longer to file your claim, you may lose the right to seek any compensation or justice following the tragedy. In addition, you should never wait to call a lawyer too close to the two-year limit. Wrongful death cases can be complicated and can require extensive investigations, evidence gathering, and preparation before an attorney can file them. To ensure that you have the strongest possible claim, always give an attorney plenty of time before the statute of limitations.
What Is Wrongful Death?
Under Texas law, a wrongful death occurs due to:
- A wrongful act
The specific causes of wrongful deaths can vary substantially. Wrongful death claims can often result from the following fatal accidents:
- Motor vehicle accidents caused by negligent drivers or dangerous roads
- Slips, trips, and falls due to hazards on someone’s property
- Accidents caused by defective or dangerous products
- Dog bites or attacks
- Fires caused by dangerous conditions or faulty electrical systems
- Construction site accidents
- Medical malpractice or hospital errors
- Nursing home abuse
- Violent assaults
Because so many acts can form the basis for wrongful death lawsuits, the best way to be sure of your legal rights is to discuss what you believe happened with an experienced Texas wrongful death lawyer.
Who Can File Wrongful Death Suits?
To make matters more complicated, only certain people may pursue wrongful death claims. Just because your longtime best friend died wrongfully does not mean you have legal rights related to the death—no matter how much you are affected. Instead, the following people may file wrongful death claims in Texas:
- Surviving spouses
- Children, including adopted children and adult children
- Parents and adoptive parents
- Texas law excludes siblings from filing wrongful death claims.
How a Wrongful Death Claim Is Different Than a Criminal Case
Sometimes, wrongful acts that lead to death also constitute criminal offenses. Law enforcement authorities and prosecutors may place the responsible party under arrest and may issue criminal charges for homicide. In this situation, many surviving family members may believe that a criminal case is their main source of obtaining justice for the loss of their loved one. However, criminal cases have their limitations, so you should also pursue a civil wrongful death claim.
A criminal conviction may mean that the wrongful party is sentenced to prison and may be required to pay fines to the court. Those punishments, however, do little to make surviving family members feel whole again or address the many financial losses they may have experienced.
The main source of direct compensation that specifically addresses the losses of family members is a claim in civil court for wrongful death. This case is entirely separate from any criminal proceedings. If a criminal conviction was entered, that conviction may be used as evidence of a wrongful act in a civil case. However, you may still have a viable wrongful death claim even if the party was not convicted because of the different legal standards in criminal and civil cases—so always explore your rights on the civil side.
What Damages Are Available?
While the value of every wrongful death claim will vary, family members can often seek significant compensation for their many losses. Under the law, wrongful death claims can involve damages for:
- Lost income and financial support of the deceased
- Lost inheritance value if the deceased would have had a larger estate had they lived longer
- Lost services, care, maintenance, support, and counsel of the deceased
- Lost companionship and love
- Emotional and mental pain, suffering, and anguish
If a wrongful death claim resulting from a particularly egregious act—such as an intentional violent act or an act of gross negligence—a court may award “exemplary” damages, which are also called punitive damages. These damages are awarded not due to any specific damages lost but based on the court’s desire to punish and deter wrongful acts. These damages are awarded on a case-by-case basis, and your attorney may advise you as to whether they are available in your case.
The Wrongful Death Legal Process
While each wrongful death case will have unique circumstances, the legal process is governed by specific rules and procedures. The following is a brief overview of the wrongful death legal process.
Free case evaluation – The first step in any wrongful death case is to schedule a free consultation with an attorney who can evaluate your situation. One of the experienced lawyers at Stewart Guss will listen to what happened and advise you as to whether you have a viable wrongful death claim. This initial consultation is always free, so you have nothing to lose by calling to discuss your rights.
Investigation – The next step in many cases is to conduct an investigation to identify any potentially liable parties and gather evidence of their wrongdoing. This often requires resources such as accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, and more. A qualified law firm will have access to the resources you need to gather evidence of the wrongful death.
Calculating damages – Another highly important step in any wrongful death claim is calculating all of your losses so you know how much you can seek in your claim. Some damages—such as costs for medical treatments prior to the death—are relatively easy to quantify and can be proven with the bills issued for the treatments. Others, however, such as loss of companionship or emotional suffering, can be more difficult to calculate, and you should always have the help of an attorney familiar with such calculations.
Drafting and filing a complaint – Once you have identified the parties responsible for the wrongful death and understand the value of your claim, your attorney can begin drafting the complaint, which is the legal document filed with the court that begins a formal case. The wrongful death complaint must meet certain requirements, including identifying defendants, stating facts that support your wrongful death cause of action, as well as the legal relief that you seek. The more persuasive your complaint, the stronger your case.
Pretrial process – The longest stage of litigation is the pretrial process between the initial pleadings and a trial—if your case gets that far. Pretrial proceedings involve conferences with defendants, a discovery period during which you exchange evidence and information with the defendant so your attorney can build your case, the filing of motions with the court, and more. You need an attorney who understands how to handle the pretrial process in an efficient manner.
Settlement negotiations – Perhaps one of the most important parts of any civil case is settlement negotiations between the parties. Even though you filed a claim for the court to resolve, you and the defendant can negotiate to try to resolve the case out-of-court at any time. During such negotiations, your attorney can use information gathered during discovery to convince the other side that you have a strong case that will prevail at trial. Many defendants would rather agree to a favorable settlement than risk losing and paying more due to a trial verdict. Therefore, the majority of cases result in settlement agreements, and a skilled wrongful death attorney will continue to negotiate through the entire process up until a trial date.
Jury trial – While most cases do not make it to trial, some parties are not willing to make reasonable settlement offers, and then cases may proceed in front of a jury or judge. For this reason, you want to be sure that your attorney has trial experience and is not hesitant to protect your rights in court when necessary.
Why Choose Our Team?
Often the deceased are breadwinners who leave behind those who counted on them for housing, food, clothing and, of course, love and affection. An experienced and compassionate wrongful death attorney can help guide you through the process, protect your rights, and be respectful of the fact that you are suffering with your grief.
- Stewart Guss and his team believe in respect, integrity, and family values,
- Our attorneys and staff will always be there for you,
- With decades of combined experience, Stewart Guss and his team will work tirelessly to recover as much as possible on your wrongful death claim.
- And you don’t pay us anything unless we win your case!
Choose an Attorney with Strength, Sympathy, and Compassion
For 20 years, Stewart Guss has represented parents who have lost children, children who have lost parents, and spouses who have lost their husbands and wives. As a loving husband and father of two beautiful children, Stewart Guss is a lawyer with a heart as big as the ocean when it comes to dealing with those who have suffered tragic losses.
If you believe you may have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, call us right away and talk about it. Do not sign anything until you speak with us because you risk losing some or all of the compensation that is due to you.
The attorneys at Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law will do everything possible to recover as much as possible for your claim, and we take pride in treating our clients like family. Pick up the phone and call (281) 664-6500 or send us an email through our online contact form to talk to us about your wrongful death claim. Remember, your consultation is free, and you pay nothing unless we win your case!
Why Take Chances? Let Us Help You!
See what past clients have to say:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Working with Mr. Guss was my first experience hiring an attorney on my own, but I could not have been more pleased with the outcome. I was hesitant to pursue my case at all, thinking that hiring an attorney would be too much of a hassle and become too complicated. However, Mr. Guss was more than helpful. He constantly kept me updated about the status of my case and explained each step of the process in great detail. . . Mr. Guss and his team significantly exceeded my expectations and the net settlement I received was more than triple what I had anticipated. In the end, I am thankful I pursued my case and I’m thrilled with the results. I would definitely work with Mr. Guss in the future and highly recommend him to anyone in a similar situation.”