Do You Have A Wrongful Death Claim If Your Loved One Had A Fatal Car Accident?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

If you have lost a loved one in a fatal car accident, you may be entitled to pursue an action based on a wrongful death claim.  An experienced personal injury attorney can help you to figure out your options in such a situation. 

A wrongful death claim arises when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity. In Texas, as in many states, there are specific statutes and provisions that govern these claims. Here is a general overview of wrongful death claims stemming from fatal car accidents in Texas:

  • Who Can File a Claim: In Texas, the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person can file a wrongful death action for their own losses due to the wrongful death claim. Siblings generally are prohibited from filing a wrongful death action. If none of the permitted individuals file a wrongful death claim within three (3) months of the death, the executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file the claim, unless a surviving family member specifically requests that the claim not be filed. Texas law distinguishes between a wrongful death claim and a survival action. A survival action is brought by the estate of the deceased for the pain, suffering, or other damages the deceased experienced before they died. Medical expenses and funeral costs can also be recovered in a survival action.
  • Notification: If you have not already been notified, you may learn about the fatal car accident through law enforcement, medical personnel, or hospital staff. It is essential to gather as much information as possible about the incident. The police will typically investigate the accident. It is important to cooperate with law enforcement and provide any information or documentation they request. You may also want to consult with a personal injury attorney to understand your rights and protect your interests during this process.
  • Documentation: Keep all documents related to the accident, including police reports, medical records, and insurance correspondence. These documents will be essential if you decide to pursue legal action.
  • Wrongful Death Claim Due To Negligence: In Texas, as with many jurisdictions, a wrongful death claim arises when a person dies due to the negligence or misconduct of another individual or entity. While the specifics of each claim may vary depending on the facts and circumstances, the general elements that must be proven to succeed in a wrongful death claim in Texas include:
  • Duty of Care: The defendant had a duty of care toward the deceased person. This means that the defendant had a legal obligation to act in a certain way toward the deceased, for example not speeding or being distracted while driving.
  • Breach: The defendant breached that duty of care. In other words, the defendant did not act in the way a reasonably prudent person would have acted in the same or similar circumstances.
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach (negligent action or omission) was a proximate cause of the deceased’s death. This means that the negligent action or omission must have been a substantial factor in bringing about the death, and that the death was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct.
  • Damages: As a result of the defendant’s negligence, the surviving family members or the estate of the deceased suffered damages. These can include economic damages like medical bills and funeral expenses, as well as non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, or mental anguish. Damages can even include a lost inheritance, meaning what the deceased would have saved and left to family if they had lived a natural life.

Each wrongful death case is unique, and the specifics can become complex, so it is important to consult with an experienced Texas wrongful death attorney to navigate the legal system and ensure all potential damages are pursued.

  • Role of Insurance: Many wrongful death claims resulting from car accidents will involve an insurance company, either the insurer of the at-fault driver or the deceased person’s own insurance company if the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured.  There can be potential claims for medical expenses, funeral costs, or other damages.
  • Comparative Fault: Texas operates under a modified comparative fault system, which means that if the deceased was partly at fault for the accident, any damages awarded would be reduced by the deceased’s percentage of fault. However, if the deceased was more than 50% at fault, the surviving family members would be barred from recovering any compensation.
  • Caps on Damages: While there is no cap on most damages in wrongful death claims arising from car accidents in Texas, there are some caps applicable if the wrongful death claim is against certain governmental entities.

Takeaway

If you (or someone that you know) believe that you have a wrongful death claim from a fatal car accident in Texas, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney to understand your specific rights and legal options. These claims can be complicated and involve multiple parties, expert witnesses, and substantial evidence. Ceja Law Firm, PLLC can guide you through the legal process and help you determine the best course of action for your situation. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.