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Houston Wrongful Death Attorney

A sound body is essential for a full life. When you’ve suffered an injury to your body, the limitations on your activities can be devastating. Your ability to work to your former capacity and to enjoy the activities you love may be severely restricted, damaging you and your family financially and affecting your ability to enjoy your life. When someone else’s careless, reckless, deliberate, or negligent behavior was the cause, you have the right to demand a monetary recovery for your damages and hiring a Houston wrongful death attorney is the first step in that process.

 

 

You’ve probably come to this page because you or someone you care about has been injured or killed, and your life is no longer the same as it was before. You’ve come to the right place to find an experienced and trusted personal injury lawyer in Houston.

A Powerful Record of Success

With many years of experience and a track record of successfully resolving every type of personal injury and wrongful death claim, the Houston-based law firm of Gordon, Elias & Seely, LLP, will provide you with the highest possible level of personal injury representation available throughout the United States.

Our 60 years of combined experience working with the accident victims and bringing in substantial recoveries for our clients is your assurance that you will receive aggressive legal representation to safeguard your right to recover the compensation you and your family members deserve and need.

Receiving Compensation for Wrongful Death

When someone passes away from injuries resulting from a completely preventable accident, it’s understandable for many people who knew the deceased person to want compensation for the loss. Unfortunately, the law only entitles certain people to receive compensation for the death of a loved one.

Compensation for wrongful death eases the financial hardship, pain and suffering, and adverse effects of the death of someone who meant a lot to the plaintiffs, whether it’s a spouse, the deceased person’s children, or his or her parents. Wrongful death lawsuits can also provide a sense of closure and justice when the courts place legal responsibility on the person or entity that took the life of an innocent person. Those who are eligible for compensation can receive money for funeral expenses, loss of consortium, and loss of support.

Who Is Eligible or Able to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas

Wrongful death is an incredibly serious charge that certain people bring against another party when they believe the death of their loved one was preventable. Wrongful death lawsuits can occur after car accidents, medical malpractice, dangerous drugs, workplace accidents, defective products, or other situations involving negligence.

Human error is often the root cause of wrongful death. A negligent manufacturer might produce a dangerous or defective product or fail to put a proper safety warning on a child’s toy. A driver might choose to drink and drive, striking a pedestrian while speeding through a residential zone. An employer might fail to provide the appropriate safety gear to construction workers operating dangerous machinery.

In each of these cases, surviving family members can file a claim for wrongful death against the responsible party. Federal and Texas state laws protect the rights of every U.S. citizen in cases of carelessness, recklessness, intent to harm, and neglect. If someone you loved suffered a fatal injury in an accident due to someone else’s mistake or misjudgment, find out if you can file a wrongful death claim and receive compensation in Texas.

Plaintiffs in Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Many people deeply feel the loss of a beloved family member, friend, or spouse—however, not everyone can file a wrongful death claim on the deceased person’s behalf. Texas Statutes section 71.001 states that someone can bring an action for wrongful death if the death was the result of someone else’s wrongful act, carelessness, negligence, unskillfulnes, or default. The people who can file a wrongful death claim in Texas are the surviving:

  • Spouse
  • Adult children
  • Adopted children. If the deceased parent had fully and legally adopted the child. An adopted child may not, however, file a wrongful death claim for a biological parent.
  • Parents and adoptive parents
  • The personal representative or executor of the estate. If the spouse, children, and parents don’t file a wrongful death claim within three months of the time of death, these parties can file the claim unless a surviving family member requests otherwise.

In Texas, surviving siblings can’t file a wrongful death claim for brothers or sisters, whether adopted or biological. Often, the person filing the lawsuit is also in charge of administrating the deceased person’s estate. The state court must appoint a representative for the deceased person, typically in a process called “probate.”

Friends of the deceased can’t file a wrongful death claim in Texas. The plaintiffs must be surviving close family members or the deceased person’s court-appointed executor of estate. The person who files a wrongful death lawsuit is typically the closest surviving relative, not a distant relative. If two people both want to file a lawsuit, such as when two surviving adult children can’t agree on whom the representative should be, the courts will settle the matter.

What Type of Damages/Compensation Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case?

Federal and Texas state laws enable the surviving family members of a deceased person to file a claim for wrongful death with the courts after someone else’s negligence caused a fatal accident. Every day, the spouses, children, and parents of the deceased turn to local attorneys to seek justice for the deaths of loved ones who passed away unnecessarily at the hands of a negligent or careless individual. The types of compensation plaintiffs are eligible to receive in a wrongful death lawsuit vary from state to state and are different from the damages a person may recover in standard personal injury cases.

Texas’ Compensation for Wrongful Death

After the death of a loved one, the surviving family members face a significant amount of grief and lost companionship. They also suffer lost income after the deceased’s death and must pay for the deceased’s medical bills (if any) and funeral costs. The damages a court allows in a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas cover most of the losses stemming from an unexpected death, including funeral and burial costs, loss of support, and loss of consortium.

A plaintiff in a wrongful death case can usually recover damages such as lost earnings and lost employment benefits as well as future lost earning capacity in Texas. Compensation can also include:

  • Mental and emotional pain and suffering
  • Loss of inheritance, including what the deceased person likely would have been able to save and leave to surviving family members were it not for the untimely death
  • Lost care, services, counsel, and support the deceased person would have provided
  • Lost comfort, companionship, and love

In some cases, Texas courts may also award exemplary damages when the death was the result of gross negligence or a willful act. The point of these damages is to punish the wrongdoer and establish a precedent for similar cases in the future. Exemplary damages are the courts’ way of saying they won’t tolerate willful or grossly negligent behaviors.

Loss of Consortium and Support

Loss of consortium means the loss of a person’s intimacy, affection, company, and sexual relations—the typical benefits of a familial relationship. The courts typically award damages for the deprivation of relationship benefits to a deceased person’s spouse, parents, and children. Loss of guidance and nurture will also come into play, representing the value of the deceased parent’s lost teachings. For example, the courts may assert that the deceased person’s children have lost a significant source of comfort, guidance, and advice. For these losses, the courts will award a certain monetary amount that the defendant must pay.

To obtain an award for lost support, the plaintiff must prove that the deceased person previously supported him or her financially. The family member must have evidence, such as pay stubs or tax documents, of the amount of support in question. If children are under the age of 18, they can also receive compensation through loss of support. If a child is legally an adult, but the plaintiff can prove that the deceased person would have contributed to the child’s support through college, the courts can award damages for the child through college.

When a spouse receives compensation for loss of support, the courts decide on the amount based on the deceased person’s presumed retirement age, which is normally 65. Men and women can both file for loss of support, but both parties must prove that the deceased person supported them financially. Parents whom the deceased person supported, such as those in a retirement home, can also claim loss of support with the appropriate evidence.

What Is the Statute of Limitations in Texas for Wrongful Death Claims?

When a loved one dies because of another person’s negligence, surviving family members suffer considerable emotional and mental anguish. Death is always a tragedy, but untimely, one that was preventable is even harder to accept. It can be difficult to think about anything except grief and mourning for a while, but questions will soon start to arise. When you’re ready to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your deceased loved one, contact a local attorney before it’s too late.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Lawmakers passed laws called statutes of limitations to set a maximum time limit after an incident in which a person can take legal action. Statutes of limitations encourage people to seek legal resolutions within a reasonable length of time. If too much time passes after an event before filing a lawsuit, evidence and details can be too difficult to trace. Witnesses will be less reliable, and evidence may be lost for both the plaintiff and the defendant.

The limitation period typically begins the day the incident occurs or the day the plaintiff becomes aware of an injury. This starting point is referred to as the “cause of action” or the “accrual.” At this moment, the plaintiff has or learns of his or her basis to sue. Sometimes, the accrual is the same date as an accident, as is the case with immediately recognizable injuries. In other cases, such as exposure to a toxic substance that eventually leads to cancer, the plaintiff will not know of the injury right away.

If a plaintiff waits until after the statute of limitations to file a claim has ended, the courts will no longer allow the case to go to court. They’ll bar the case as the plaintiff filed after the statute of limitations period. Even if the plaintiff files the claim, the defendant can use the expiration of the statute as a defense against the claim, and the court will usually dismiss the case. Each state has different statutes of limitations for different types of lawsuits, and they vary from state court to federal court.

Texas and Wrongful Death Claims

In Texas, the State Statute Chapter 71 outlines the rules for filing a wrongful death claim in the state. The statute of limitations for wrongful death in Texas is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. However, there are exceptions to this rule that may apply in your case. There’s a separate statute of limitations for people who want to file a survival action. In Texas, this statute is two years from the date of the person’s injury. For any personal injury case in Texas, the time limit to file a claim is two years from the date of the injury or the date of injury discovery.

It’s important to note that statutes of limitations aren’t always set in stone. The courts may extend any time limit established at the request of a party if they can show a good cause. You may also have grounds to file a different or additional claim, such as a survival action, with a different statute of limitations. Always consult an attorney about your wrongful death case before assuming it’s too late to file. Rules may differ depending on the circumstances or if the action is against the government.

Other Limitations for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Some states, including Texas, impose a settlement (or award cap) on wrongful death lawsuits. The limit for non-economic damages, such as loss of consortium, is currently $500,000, but it can reach much higher when the courts adjust the cap for inflation. The circumstances of your case will change how the cap will affect your compensation. Consult an attorney for details about your particular situation.

What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and Survival Claim?

When a loved one dies due to another person’s negligence, people often don’t understand what steps to take. If someone dies as the result of a personal injury, his or her surviving close relatives may file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is a type of claim with which most people are reasonably familiar. You may have also heard of survival actions, but you may not know how these two things are alike and different. A survival action follows separate laws from a wrongful death lawsuit and grants plaintiff’s eligibility for different kinds of compensation.

Texas Laws

There are two separate sets of state laws that govern wrongful death and survival actions. Both exist for the benefit of the deceased person’s surviving family members. Before these laws existed, the deceased person’s right to a personal injury claim ceased upon his or her death. Today, surviving family members can pursue a personal injury claim even after the date of death and receive compensation for things such as the deceased person’s pain and suffering and lost earnings up until death.

Wrongful death and survival actions award different types of damages to the estate and beneficiaries of the deceased. Those who suffered from the death of a loved one, financially and emotionally, can take the responsible party to court for both types of damages. In some states, you can sue on both a survival action and a wrongful death lawsuit. In others, you can pursue both but only recover for one. Under the Texas Survival Statute, a deceased person’s estate representative can bring a personal injury claim separate from a wrongful death claim.

Types of Compensation

Every state has its own wrongful death laws, but many issues are common across America. For instance, the types of damages the law allows in a case and how the courts appoint a person to represent the estate are the same throughout. In some states, siblings and distant relatives can file a wrongful death claim, but Texas courts limit the plaintiffs to only the spouse, adult children, parents, and/or the official executor of the estate. The damages a plaintiff can typically recover in a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas include:

  • Loss of financial support
  • Medical expenses up until time of death
  • Emotional damages
  • Funeral and burial expenses

If plaintiffs win compensation for a wrongful death claim, the award goes directly to the family and doesn’t pass through the deceased person’s estate. In contrast, the awards a court grants in a survival action case go the estate, not directly to the family. The executor of the estate then divides the damages among the family members as described in the deceased person’s will (or according to state law if there is no will). If a plaintiff only pursues a survival action, the family members may not obtain recovery for personal losses.

The compensation in a survival action includes recovery for the deceased person’s injuries before he or she passed away. It’s similar to a personal injury claim, but set in motion after the date of death. In a survival action, the estate recovers for the deceased person’s pain and suffering from the period between the accident that caused injury and death.

Deciding Which Action to Pursue

The type of action you should pursue in the event of a loved one’s death will depend on the circumstances of the accident and your goals for making a claim. You’ll receive different forms of compensation in different ways depending on which action you pursue in Texas.

What Is the Difference Between a Criminal Case and a Civil Case Against Someone Who Caused a Death?

There’s often confusion between whether a person must file an ordinary wrongful death claim and a criminal claim against someone who caused the death of another person. While both cases involve preventable death, they operate under different types of laws. Wrongful death and murder are two separate charges that have dissimilar rules and legal processes. Understanding the processes of each after the death of your loved one can help you know what to expect during and after a trial.

Differences in Legislation

There are two broad categories of lawsuits in America: civil and criminal. The courts consider crimes offenses against the state or offenses against all of society. Even though one individual murdered another person, it presents an offense to everyone in the state. In a civil case, the defendant commits an offense against one wronged party or a collective voice of multiple wronged parties, as is the case with class actions.

Civil lawsuits involve cases where individual citizens bring actions against one another or against corporations or companies. Private attorneys help bring civil lawsuits, which typically involve negligence or carelessness that directly resulted in the death of another person. In most cases, civil lawsuits don’t result in the incarceration of the defendant, but rather the payment of financial compensation.

The goal of a wrongful death claim is to obtain recovery for damages the defendant’s negligence caused. Plaintiffs can receive payment for funeral expenses, loss of consortium, loss of support, and for medical expenses up until the date of death. In a criminal lawsuit, the main goal is to seek justice against a person for his or her criminal actions—in this case, for murder.

Government prosecutors on behalf of the state institute criminal lawsuits instead of private attorneys. Survivors of the deceased or estates bring civil lawsuits against entities responsible for the death on the basis that an action was careless, negligent, or deliberate. Plaintiffs can base wrongful death lawsuits on acts that constitute murder; however, the only available remedy in this type of lawsuit is financial recovery. The plaintiff can’t punish the defendant with criminal penalties or incarceration.

Burdens of Proof

One of the greatest differences between a criminal case and a civil case is the burden of proof. Wrongful death lawsuits must prove that the defendant was more likely than not (at least 51%) responsible for the death. The courts must agree that the defendant most likely committed the allegations brought against him or her in the civil complaint. In a criminal case, on the other hand, the prosecutor must establish evidence that proves that the defendant committed the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Case Outcomes

In some cases, such as the famous O.J. Simpson trial, the courts can acquit a defendant of murder in a criminal trial, yet hold the same person liable for wrongful death in a civil trial.

This is because the case against Simpson in the criminal trial didn’t prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but it did prove his responsibility for the death under the laxer requirements of the civil court, where the penalties are less severe. While it may seem like these outcomes contradict each other, they don’t under the rules of different legal spheres.

When a prosecutor brings a criminal case against someone for murder, a “win” will result in the individual facing incarceration or even death as the result of his or her actions. In Texas, capital punishment is still legal. In a civil case, a win results in the defendant having to pay a certain amount of money to the plaintiff to make up for the damages the death of a loved one caused.

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