Losing a loved one unexpectedly is heartbreaking enough without the added insult of finding out their death was the result of another person or entity's negligence. The death of a loved one can be both emotionally and financially challenging for the deceased's family members—especially if they were dependent on his or her income.
However, when negligent actions lead to someone else's death, the victim's family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek compensation from the at-fault party.
While the parties named in wrongful death claims are often individuals, wrongful death lawsuits can also be brought against businesses, and even government agencies and their employees.
For example, if your loved one due to a drunk driving accident, a bar or restaurant may be found liable for overserving the negligent driver who caused the crash. If your loved one suffered a fatal car accident due to faulty roadway design, the engineering company responsible for the design and the roadway municipality could both be found negligent.
Recently, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, increasing numbers of wrongful death lawsuits are being filed against businesses across the United States. For example, the estate of a Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 is suing the retailer for failing to provide proper protective equipment for their employees. If found to be true, Walmart could be found as negligent and responsible for the employee's coronavirus death.
If someone you love was killed due to a business or government agency's negligence, you may be entitled to damages. Here's what you need to know.
Immunity for Government Agencies and Employees
For plaintiffs bringing wrongful death lawsuits against government agencies or their employees, Sovereign Immunity is a rarely invoked, yet applicable, concept that could throw a wrench in the works and make it difficult to recover compensation. Sovereign Immunity prevents citizens from filing lawsuits against the government or its employees. However, state courts can waive this right, allowing lawsuits to proceed.
While the state of Texas often does choose to waive its Sovereign Immunity, it occasionally cites the privilege when rejecting cases. For example, in September 2016, the state-funded University of Texas cancer clinic successfully avoided a medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parent of a former patient by invoking Sovereign Immunity. In December of that same year, the Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the case, allowing the rejection of the lawsuit to stand.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Action?
Texas has very specific laws governing who can and cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those eligible to bring a wrongful death action include the deceased's:
- Surviving spouse
- Biological or adopted children
Eligible individuals have the option of filing the lawsuit on their own or filing it together as a group. Additionally, in cases where the surviving spouse, children, or parents decline to file a wrongful death claim, the lawsuit can be brought by a personal representative or the executor of the deceased's estate.
Other Factors That Could Affect a Wrongful Death Claim
Statutes of limitations are laws that determine just how long someone has to bring a lawsuit against another person, business, or government entity. In Texas, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death cases is two years. This means eligible family members must file their lawsuit against a person or business within two years of their loved one's death.
However, the statute of limitations for bringing a wrongful death action against a government agency or employee can vary, and is often much shorter.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death plaintiffs can pursue compensation for a wide variety of economic and non-economic losses related to their loved one's death, including:
- Medical expenses incurred by the victim prior to death
- The victim's pain and suffering
- The family's pain and suffering
- Loss of income
- Loss of love, guidance and support
- Loss of benefits
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of consortium
Additionally, in cases where the defendant's conduct was particularly heinous, the judge or jury may choose to award punitive damages. Rather than compensating plaintiffs for a loss, punitive damages punish the defendant for his or her actions and discourage others from engaging in similar conduct.
Do You Need Help Handling a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you lost a loved one due to the negligence of a business, or government agency or employee, you may be eligible to seek compensation. The award-winning personal injury attorneys with McGartland Law Firm can help you make sense of Texas' complex personal injury and wrongful death laws. Contact McGartland Law Firm today to schedule an appointment for a free initial review of your case.