What is the difference between an accidental death and a wrongful death?

cemetaryWhen a loved one is killed, it's imperative for surviving family members to understand their legal rights, especially if they were financially dependent on the decedent.

Deaths that occur as a result of car, truck, motorcycle, construction, or oil field accidents may not be purely accidental.

If an accident involves negligence or the intentional infliction of harm, the fatalities that follow may be considered wrongful deaths rather than accidental deaths—potentially enabling the decedent's family (or a representative of the estate) to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. It's the negligence or deliberate harm that sets wrongful deaths apart from those that are truly accidental.

Was your loved one killed in an accident caused by another person or entity's negligent or intentionally-harmful actions? You may be entitled to compensation for damages. If you're considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, here's what you should know.

Accidental Deaths vs. Wrongful Deaths

To help you understand the difference between these incidents, here are two examples:

  • Wrongful death: A distracted driver crosses the median and veers into oncoming traffic, resulting in a fatal head-on collision. Because distracted driving is a form of negligence, the decedent's surviving family members may have grounds to bring a wrongful death claim against the distracted motorist who caused the crash.
  • Accidental death: While following all applicable traffic laws, a driver rounds a corner, striking and killing a pedestrian walking in the roadway at night. Although the driver's actions resulted in a death, because the incident didn't involve negligence or wrongful actions, the death would likely be ruled accidental. As a result, the family of the deceased probably wouldn't have grounds to bring a wrongful death claim against the driver.

Essential Elements in Wrongful Death Claim

In Texas, proving a wrongful death claim requires the plaintiff to do more than simply show that the defendant was involved in an incident that resulted in the death of their loved one. Successful wrongful death causes of action must include the following characteristics or elements:

  • The death in question was partially or wholly caused by the defendant.
  • The death occurred as a direct result of the defendant's negligence, carelessness, unskillfulness, wrongful actions, or failure to fulfill an obligation.
  • The death negatively affected the decedent's surviving family members who are eligible to receive compensation under Texas's wrongful death statute.
  • The death resulted in monetary damages.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim—and When?

In Texas, the ability to bring a wrongful death action is limited to the decedent's surviving spouse, biological or adopted children, and biological or adoptive parents. Any one of these family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit, or the family members can file the lawsuit jointly.

If none of the eligible surviving family members have filed a wrongful death lawsuit within three months of the death, the decedent's personal representative can file the claim on behalf of the estate.

Regardless of which eligible party brings the wrongful death action, Texas's statute of limitations for wrongful death cases requires that the lawsuit be filed within two years of the decedent's death.

Damages Available in Wrongful Death Cases

Losing a loved one often deal emotional and financial blows to surviving family members. However, wrongful death claimants can pursue compensation for a wide range of economic and non-economic damages, including:

  • Funeral and burial (or cremation) expenses
  • Lost inheritance
  • Mental and emotional anguish
  • Lost care, support, advice and guidance
  • Lost love, companionship and society
  • Lost consortium

Do You Need a Wrongful Death Attorney?

If your loved one was killed because of someone else's negligence, you may have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. The award-winning legal team with McGartland Law Firm can help you explore your legal options. Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule an appointment for a free, no-obligation consultation.