As an Attorney: Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?When an act of negligence, carelessness, or recklessness causes the death of your loved one, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, any wrongful death attorney will tell you that not all family members are entitled to file a wrongful death suit. Learn more about who is qualified to file a lawsuit before you speak with an attorney.
Ask a Wrongful Death Attorney: Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
One of the first questions you may have for a Houston wrongful death attorney is whether you can file a lawsuit or not. Under Texas law, the people who are allowed to file a lawsuit are generally the close relatives of the deceased person. Texas categorizes a close relative by biological relationships and legal relationships.
In Texas, legal relatives include the legal spouse of the deceased person. However, because Texas also recognizes common law marriages, if your relationship with the deceased individual qualifies as a common law marriage, you may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Additionally, legal relatives can include those who have an adoptive relationship with the deceased individual. For example, adoptive children and adoptive parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased individual.
Immediate Biological Relative
Immediate biological relatives are also allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas. Usually, this means that the biological children and the biological parents of the deceased individual can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
That said, it may still be necessary to provide proof that you share a biological relationship with the deceased, such as with a certified birth certificate. Sometimes, illegitimate biological children are also allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Can Step-Family File a Suit?
Although step-family may be considered close relatives, step-family members may not be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit unless certain requirements are met. For example, a stepchild who is not adopted by the deceased individual is not qualified to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, a stepchild who has been adopted by the deceased individual is entitled to become a wrongful death beneficiary.
Can Extended Family File a Suit?
Sometimes, siblings, grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews also wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, in Texas, extended family are not allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Can the Deceased Individual’s Estate File a Suit?
Although some states allow the estate of the deceased individual to file a wrongful death lawsuit, Texas does not subscribe to this doctrine. Even if the estate of the individual suffers losses from the death of the deceased, the estate is still not able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Instead, if the estate wants to claim damages from wrongful death, the estate will need to follow the criteria outlined by the Texas Survival Statute.
Why Should You Consider a Wrongful Death Suit?
There is more than one reason why you and your family may want to consider a wrongful death lawsuit. Aside from the closure families may get from a wrongful death lawsuit, some of the most common reasons to work with an attorney on this type of case include:
Financial compensation can be a huge motivating factor for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased individual was the primary breadwinner or contributed a significant portion of income to the family, the loss of that income can create a financial burden for the family. Financial compensation can replace the estimated lost wages of the deceased individual, pay for medical debt, and even cover funeral expenses.
Furthermore, the award for a wrongful death settlement can also be dispersed into trusts for minor children to use later in life, such as for college. Although financial compensation is cold comfort, it can help families regain stability after the loss of a loved one.
Some families seek to file a wrongful death lawsuit for the sake of justice. For example, families may choose to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit to hold the liable parties responsible. Seeking justice on behalf of the deceased can also help families cope with grief.
Finally, some families may file a wrongful death lawsuit to raise public awareness. For example, if a company is liable for the death of the deceased, a wrongful death lawsuit can bring public awareness to a dangerous product.
Should You Consider Filing a Criminal Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that has civil consequences. In general, this means that if you desire the liable party to receive punitive damages such as jail time, you may need to work with a lawyer to file a criminal wrongful death lawsuit. This is most appropriate when there was criminal negligence involved in the accident that caused the death of the deceased individual.
In Texas, only a few people are qualified to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes the legal and biological relatives of the deceased individual but excludes extended family. An experienced attorney can explain more about how wrongful death lawsuits work.