Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Under Texas law, only certain people have the legal standing to file a wrongful death claim.
The spouse of a deceased victim has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes a person who was legally married to the deceased, as well as individuals who were married by common law. For a relationship to be a common law marriage in the eyes of the court, the couple must have agreed to be married, lived together, and represented themselves to others as married. Issues surrounding a wrongful death claim can arise if the couple was separated or going through a divorce. However, a spouse can still file suit if their divorce was not yet finalized.
Biological and adoptive parents can pursue a wrongful death claim under the Texas Wrongful Death Act. However, that does not include stepparents or foster parents. In addition, issues can arise if a parent is not listed on the victim’s birth certificate. In that case, the individual must prove parentage before they can file a lawsuit.
Adult children of a deceased victim also have the right to file a wrongful death claim in Texas. This includes biological and fully adopted children. However, adopted children may not pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of their biological parent(s).
If the deceased’s surviving children are minors, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until a minor turns 18. In other words, they retain the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit until two years after their eighteenth birthday. However, another parent or guardian of a surviving minor child will typically pursue the claim on their behalf.
Who is Not Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?
Texas does not allow siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, or other extended family members to file a wrongful death claim. If a surviving spouse, children, or parents fail to bring legal action within three months of the deceased’s death, then the executor or personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. However, if all surviving beneficiaries agree and request that a claim not be filed, then the estate cannot pursue one.
Types of Compensation Available in a Texas Wrongful Death Claim
Several forms of compensation are available to a wrongful death victim’s surviving family members. The types and amount awarded will vary based on the circumstances of each case, but the following kinds are often included in a settlement or award:
- Medical bills caused by the accident which led to the death;
- Funeral, cremation, or burial expenses;
- Loss of the victim’s expected income;
- Loss of benefits;
- Estate administration expenses
- Reduction in the inheritance suffered by surviving children;
- Loss of parental guidance;
- Loss of support and services that the victim provided;
- Loss of society, companionship, comfort, guidance, and advice.
- Compensation for the conscious pain and suffering the deceased endured due to their injuries before their death.
- Interest on top of the damages awarded, which are calculated from the date of death.
Punitive damages can also be awarded when the at-fault party’s actions were egregious or extremely reckless. Unlike other types of compensation, punitive damages are intended as a punishment.