After a wrongful death accident, who is qualified to receive damages (compensation)?
When your loved one dies due to the negligence of someone else, going through the grieving process is exceptionally difficult for family members left behind, especially knowing that the death was preventable.
Once the challenging tasks associated with making final arrangements are over, the family is left with difficult financial decisions. A loved family member (referred to as the “decedent”) is gone, so now you may be asking:
Can I sue for wrongful death damages?
The answer depends on your relationship with the deceased.
What is wrongful death?
When a person’s death is caused by a third party’s negligence, the result is considered a wrongful death. Examples of the types of incidents that give rise to wrongful death claims include:
- Accidental drowning
- Premises liability accident (slip and fall)
- Dog bite
Certain family members are entitled to wrongful death benefits. The statute of limitations governs how long the family has to file the lawsuit.
At present, a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas must be filed within 2 years of the decedent’s death.
If the deceased family member was the primary caretaker or earned the primary income for the family, things can quickly become desperate. The family left behind may soon be struggling with financial debt.
It’s best to contact an attorney who is experienced in the area of wrongful death right away in order to protect the potential rights of the family members.
But what kinds of damages can the family members left behind sue for?
Damages for wrongful death in Texas
If your loved one died at the hands of another, the surviving family members can sue for legal compensation. Damages that can be sought include:
- Funeral expenses
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Loss of companionship and counsel
- Mental anguish experienced by the family members
- Loss of inheritance
The financial compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit can be substantial, but not everyone is entitled to a share. Friends and non-family members are excluded from suing for financial compensation following the death of a loved one at the hands of another. Even certain extended family members are excluded from the list of those entitled to sue for damages.
Who is legally allowed to file a lawsuit?
Who is eligible for compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit?
According to the Texas wrongful death statute, only close family members can bring a lawsuit, including:
- Living children (biological and adopted)
Stepchildren who were never legally adopted, siblings of the decedent, the fiance of the decedent or even the grandparents of the decedent are not allowed to file a claim under this statute.
The financial compensation must be allocated among the beneficiaries who are eligible to receive funds.
Who gets priority for wrongful death benefits?
In general, the decedent’s surviving spouse and children are considered priority recipients of monies received from a wrongful death lawsuit. If the children are minors, a “guardian ad litem” will be appointed by the court to ensure that the best interests of the children are taken into consideration in determining how to divide up the proceeds.
A guardian ad litem (the GAL) is a trained professional whose job is to make sure that the minor children receive an appropriate share of the financial proceeds.
How to divide a wrongful death settlement
If the potential recipients are all adults and 1 lawsuit has been pursued by the family, there are 2 possible scenarios. If everyone is cooperative and in agreement about how to divide the proceeds, a settlement can be reached and everyone will part on good terms.
If, however, there is a dispute over how to fairly distribute the proceeds of the settlement, a jury will decide how any proceeds should be divided.
In cases where the family members are so adversarial that they are not even in agreement on filing 1 wrongful death action together, individual family members can hire their own attorneys to file separate actions, though this option is least optimal.
Our Waco wrongful death lawyers are well-versed in helping families in crisis following the wrongful death of a loved one. We know what financial compensation family members deserve and are ready to help you recover the maximum benefits you deserve.