Everyone understands that if someone deliberately murders a loved one, the police will arrest that person and lawyers who work for the State of Texas will prosecute the murderer to the fullest extent of the law.
But what happens when a loved one is killed by accident or through carelessness, rather than through a willful murder? The answer to this question is found in the Texas Wrongful Death Act. Frankly, most lawyers are reluctant to provide information to grieving family members about wrongful death law. Instead, they take a paternalistic approach, wherein they impliedly state, "I know what I'm doing, just trust me" while effectively keeping their clients in the dark.
We think that's the wrong way to practice law and that a client has the right to know how their case is being handled and why. On that note, we have prepared the following guide to thoroughly explain the ins-and-outs of Texas wrongful death law so that you can:
- know your rights;
- know how to file a wrongful death claim;
- and know what juries typically award grieving families.
Beyond the information presented below, our attorneys possess a wealth of knowledge on the subject of wrongful death law, having litigated hundreds of fatal accident cases. But more importantly, we've been in your position before.
Several of our attorneys and staff have lost loved ones due to the carelessness of others, so we make it our mission to not only help our clients win their case, but to treat them with respect and compassion. A big part of that goal is being there for your clients when they need you. As such, should you have any questions, about your particular situation, call us. We're here to help.
Why Sue for Money After the Death of a Loved One in Texas?
In our experience, the biggest confusion about wrongful death law isn't about how the law works, but that many people have a hard time understanding why you would sue someone for money for having killed your loved one. Since this conversation is inevitable, let's rip the band-aid off and start there.
Those who’ve lost loved ones are primarily concerned with two things: finding out exactly what happened and making sure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again to anyone else. But the fact remains that while we cannot bring back those who’ve lost their lives, the victims left behind have seen their lives changed forever.
So, why do we pursue money in a lawsuit at all? After all, the greatest victim is no longer alive to make use of the funds. There are two main justifications for pursuing financial compensation in a wrongful death claim:
We Pursue Compensation for Justice
A wrongful death claim “piggybacks” the decedent’s (your deceased loved one) personal injury claim. If the victim had lived and only been seriously hurt, he or she could bring a claim for the damages endured. In the wrongful death context, it would be wildly unjust to allow the perpetrator to escape payment simply because the victim is no longer around to pursue the claim.
Think about it this way. If someone robs your grandmother’s house, we’d want that person thrown in jail. He caused your grandmother a great deal of fear and loss and must be punished. But what if your grandmother died two days after the robbery from something unrelated? Would we simply let the robber walk free and clear from jail because the victim has passed away? Of course not.
We’re all born with an innate sense that the “scales of justice” must be righted as much as is possible. Since we’re not going to demand that the person who negligently killed your loved one himself be killed or physically injured, that leaves money as the only remaining punishment. Further, by holding individuals and companies financially liable, we can create extra incentives for keeping such tragedies from happening again.
In order to deter future bad actors, today’s perpetrators must be made to pay. The pocketbook is a sensitive thing—no one likes having to pay out significant sums of money, and when they see it happen to someone else, they’ll think twice about making the same mistakes. This is especially true of businesses. Companies employ teams of lawyers to keep them informed about potential legal liabilities and take steps to avoid them.
These lawyers keep close tabs on how their company’s competitors are faring when accidents happen and in turn advise their clients on what safety risks they have. When victims do not litigate cases, then these lawyers are not communicating to their clients that they might need to change dangerous practices.
We Pursue Compensation in Cases of Wrongful Death Because It’s Necessary
Losing someone to an early death doesn’t simply take an emotional toll, but a financial one as well. Lost income, lost inheritance, household services—the list goes on. And since your loved one is no longer there to provide, you must make up the financial differences somewhere. The compensation that families receive in wrongful death cases isn’t about making anyone “rich,” but about replacing the finances wrongfully taken.
The bottom line is that you need the money that your loved one provided. You shouldn’t be forced to make up the entire difference on your own. You need that money for groceries, to pay the mortgage, for school, and everything else that you need to live as normal a life as possible. Additionally, almost every victim has incurred significant financial loss from any number of sources, such as missed work, travel costs for other family members to attend the funeral, and counseling.
The money that was taken from you belonged to you. It was supposed to be yours to use for your needs and at your discretion. You deserve to have it back.
Now that you know why we sue for money, we'd like to take a moment to discuss where wrongful death law comes from and how this system came to be.
A Brief History of Texas Wrongful Death Law
In order to understand how wrongful death law works, it's important to know how it came to be. In this section, we'll briefly explain the origins of wrongful death law in Texas.
In the early days of Texas, there was no such thing as a wrongful death lawsuit. Like most jurisdictions that followed the common law, if someone injured you, you could sue them, but if they killed you, it was a legal freebie. In Texas, they thought that was a little too harsh, so lawmakers added something to the Texas Constitution that says heirs of the body (a spouse or child) can sue when their loved one was killed through a grossly negligent act (carelessness that shocks the senses).
HOMICIDE: LIABILITY FOR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES. Every person, corporation, or company, that may commit a homicide, through wilful act, or omission, or gross neglect, shall be responsible, in exemplary damages, to the surviving husband, widow, heirs of his or her body, or such of them as there may be, without regard to any criminal proceeding that may or may not be had in relation to the homicide.Article 16 § 26 Texas Constitution
When Texans added this provision to the Constitution, they introduced an early prototype version of wrongful death law, before wrongful death law became popular and widely accepted in all 50 states.
While this provision was a step in the right direction, in that it allowed family members a remedy when their loved one was killed through gross negligence, it limited the compensation available to victims and didn't completely solve the problem. Instances still existed where a bad actor, who would have been on the hook for compensation had they injured someone, ended up owing nothing because they accidentally killed their victim.
The Texas Legislature attempted to remedy this problem by passing the current version of the Texas Wrongful Death Act. To right the injustice of an injury claim disappearing when the injured person died, the legislature created claims for certain relatives in the event their loved one died as a result of actions that would otherwise result in a valid personal injury claim. To put it another way, the legislature invented wrongful death law in Texas.
In the following chapters, we'll take you through what rights the Texas Wrongful Death Act provides, as well as for whom it provides those rights.
The Texas Wrongful Death Act
Unlike when someone murders another person and the state steps in via the police and prosecutors to hold the wrongdoer accountable, there is no government agency to call or form to fill out with a government agency to initiate a wrongful death claim. Instead, Texas legislators crafted, through law, a tool that allows victims to pursue a claim in court against those who carelessly caused the death of a loved one; they created a wrongful death cause of action, or right to sue.
Texas Legislators Created Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is found in Chapter 71 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Texas legislators created the following cause of action: (if reading statutes isn't for you, we'll break down the relevant parts next):
CAUSE OF ACTION. (a) An action for actual damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death may be brought if liability exists under this section. (b) A person is liable for damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death if the injury was caused by the person's or his agent's or servant's wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 71 Section 2
That's a lot to take in, so rather than just say "here's the law" (which is what most attorneys do), we'll walk you through step by step what this means and how it impacts you.
What Is a Cause of Action?
A cause of action is the right to sue. Now, you may be a bit confused, since it's a common assumption that in American you can sue anyone for any reason, but that's not technically correct. Courts can't just intervene in any old dispute. Instead, they're limited to using their powers to resolve types of disputes where the court is authorized by law to provide a remedy.
For instance, you may want your children to complete their homework, while they refuse. That's certainly a dispute, but obviously not one you can involve a court to resolve. Even if you filed a petition to ask the court to intervene in that situation, it would decline to do so and dismiss the case. Why? Because there is no such thing as a "force my kid to do homework" cause of action.
We can think of a cause of action as a key that unlocks the ability of a court to intervene in a dispute. If you don't have that key, it's the same as being locked out of the courthouse. To put it another way, on the show Jeopardy! contestants can give the right answer, but the judges don't award points if you don't answer in the form of a question. Just as Jeopardy! doesn't award points if you don't phrase your answer as a question, courts don't hear cases without a cause of action.
When legislators passed the Texas Wrongful Death Act, they essentially told the judiciary, "Courts, you can now hear these cases, resolve them, and this is how you'll do so." That's what attorneys mean when they refer to a cause of action. It's important to know that whether a lawyer says cause of action, filing a lawsuit, or the right to sue, they're generally saying the same thing.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?
Now that you know what a cause of action is, we can look into the specific circumstances that give rise to a wrongful death cause of action (or lawsuit). The Texas Wrongful Death Act did two things: first, it established and a cause of action, or right to sue, then it defined the circumstances where people could exercise that right. Let's look at the circumstances necessary to have an actionable wrongful death lawsuit.
(a) An action for actual damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death may be brought if liability exists under this section.Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 71 Section 2.a
At first glance, this section may not appear to be the simplest part of the law, but it is. Essentially, this is how lawyers (which is what most legislators are) say, "If following conditions exist, then victims can file a lawsuit." It's the next section that's a bit trickier.
(b) A person is liable for damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death if the injury was caused by the person's or his agent's or servant's wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 71 Section 2.b
There's a lot to unpack in this portion of the the law, so let's slow down and go through it piece by piece. Here are the relevant parts for your wrongful death lawsuit:
- The person who caused the death is responsible for the victim's damages. Most of the time when you see damages in a law, it means is money. This is no exception. So, the first section gives you the right to sue, while this section clarifies that you're suing the person responsible for your loved one's death for money.
- The death results from an injury that the defendant inflicted upon your loved one. This concept may strike you as obvious. It may seem so obvious that you wonder why it's included in the law. It's important because the statute's wording places the cause of action in the realm of personal injury law. Rather than create a whole new body of wrongful death law from scratch, the legislature's chose to make a wrongful death case a personal injury case where the injury is death. As a practical matter, this means your case must follow all of the rules of a personal injury case and also abide by additional rules the legislature and courts created for wrongful death lawsuits.
- A wrongful death suit is available when the defendant kills the decedent either intentionally or negligently. This part can be a bit tricky, so let's break down the two different types of killing that trigger a wrongful death cause of action.
- A person intentionally killed my loved one — This is the most straight-forward act, which triggers liability under the law. The best example is the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the families of O.J. Simpson's victims. They alleged that Mr. Simpson intentionally killed their relatives, meaning he took their lives on purpose. A jury agreed and awarded damages to the families.
- A person negligently killed my loved one — This is the more common wrongful death scenario, since far more people die because of accidents than because another person knowingly decides to kill someone. While we'll get into how to prove negligence in greater detail later on, for now what you need to know is that this cause of action arises when a person's irresponsible behavior results in another's death.
Think of a drunk driver crashing into someone's vehicle and killing them. The drunk doesn't set out to kill anyone, but they engaged in such careless behavior that it was a foreseeable consequence that someone might die as a result. If you lost a loved in such a scenario then wrongful death law allows you to sue the drunk driver for killing your loved one by their negligent behavior.
When we put everything together, a wrongful death lawsuit is really a personal injury lawsuit that seeks to hold a wrongdoer accountable for the death of your loved in court by making the wrongdoer pay money to the victim's spouse, children, or parents.
Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Texas?
The Texas Wrongful Death Act allows for "the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased" to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and recover for the losses associated with losing a close family member. As a result, only a spouse, child, or parent can sue. Brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, while all close relatives, cannot initiate a wrongful death claim.
Who Is a Spouse, Parent, or Child?
Adoption, blended families, and informal marriage all present special circumstances that muddy the waters as to who is a spouse, parent, or child.
Adoptive parents and their children enjoy the same legal benefits as parents and children with a biological relationship. This means that adoptive parents can bring wrongful death claims against someone who kills their adopted child, and adopted children can do likewise if they lose a parent to someone else's carelessness.
Step-parents are in a different boat. If the step-parent legally adopts their spouse's children, then they're adoptive parents, enjoying all the legal rights that come with adoption. However, many step-parents raise children every bit as much as a biological parent, but if they don't go through the formal adoption process, a step-parent cannot bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Lastly, Texas is one of several states that recognizes informal marriage, more commonly called, "common law marriage." For the purposes of wrongful death law, spouses in an informal marriage are treated the same as a spouse who obtained a marriage license at the courthouse. From a practical standpoint, informal marriage introduces some complications to a claim, because it's almost certain that defendant will argue that the informal marriage isn't legitimate, and the surviving spouse isn't eligible to pursue the claim. This places the burden on the surviving spouse to prove the marriage was in fact real. These hurdles are not a deal-breaker, rather they merely add an extra step to the process; a step we've successfully helped our clients overcome, time after time.
To recap, the following people can file a Texas wrongful death lawsuit:
- Parents of the decedent, biological and adoptive
- Spouse of the decedent, both formally and informally wed
- Children of the decedent, biological and adoptive, minor and adult
How Long Do I Have to File a Texas Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
As previously mentioned, since a wrongful death lawsuit rests upon an underlying personal injury lawsuit, all the rules that apply to a personal injury case also apply to a wrongful death case. This means the law subjects wrongful death lawsuits to the same 2-year statute of limitations that applies to personal injury lawsuits.
That statute of limitations works a lot like a shot clock in basketball. A shot clock is a specific amount of time that a team has to take a shot. If a team fails to do so, they forfeit possession of the basketball to the other team. The statute of limitations works in a similar fashion to a shot clock, but with much more severe consequences. If you don't file your wrongful death lawsuit within the 2-year window that the law provides, you essentially lose the ability to pursue your case.
Let's untangle that. Suppose Bob dies in a car crash caused by a drunk driver on January 1, 2023. Bob's parents are deceased, but his wife and 2 children are still alive. This means his wife and child would be eligible to file wrongful death suits against the drunk driver and potentially any alcohol provider who overserved the drunk driver.
The wife has until January 1, 2025 (two years after the incident) to file suit or the claim vanishes. If the children are 18-years-old or over, they too have until January 1, 2025. If the children are 17 or younger, then the 2-year statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until they turn 18. As a practical matter, there is rarely a time when a child's guardian should wait to pursue a claim. Evidence disappears, meaning that by the time Bob's 1-year-old child could potentially file suit in 2042, the likelihood that the evidence would still exist to make the child's case is slim.
Tolling the Statute of Limitations
The legal mechanism that allows courts to allow an action to proceed after the statute of limitations runs is called tolling. In the previous example, the statute of limitations was tolled for minor children. Courts have an expectation that those who find themselves wronged will take legal action in a timely manner. They will only toll the statute of limitations when circumstances exist that make it impossible for the claimant to pursue their claim. Minor children obviously can't hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit, so courts can press the pause button on the statute of limitations to give them an opportunity to pursue their claim when they are able to do so, in the event a guardian has not already brought a claim.
There are other very specific circumstances where a court may toll the statute of limitations, which we won't get into here. The larger point is that waiting too long to act can see an otherwise perfectly good claim become unactionable. Just because in very rare and specific circumstances a court can set aside the statute of limitations doesn't mean that you should count on that happening in your case. Sooner is always a better time to start your case than later.
What Is a Survival Claim?
A survival claim is the decedent's (your loved one's) personal injury claim that survives their death. It allows the victims estate to continue the lawsuit, as if the victim were still alive to pursue their personal injury claim. We discussed earlier how if someone robbed your grandmother, and she subsequently passed away from some other cause, it wouldn't be right to let the robber go free, just because his victim was no longer around. A survival claim allows a lawsuit to ensure that a wrongdoer doesn't avoid the consequences for injuring someone, just because their victim subsequently passes away.
As we've previously discussed, a cause of action is simply the right to sue. If you recall, the reason the Texas legislature passed the wrongful death statute was to provide a remedy for family members who lost a loved one. Before the Texas Legislature intervened, a similar problem existed, wherein a victim's personal injury cause of action ceased to exist when they died. As hard as it may to believe, for a long time in Texas, injuring a person could open up to the wrongdoer to potentially costly personal injury lawsuit, but if they injured the person so severely that they died, they didn't face any consequences.
Texas Legislators recognized this problem and fixed it by passing the Texas Survival Statute. The Survival Statute didn't create a new right to sue, rather it states that a victim's right to bring a personal injury lawsuit continues after their death.
Who Can Bring a Survival Claim?
This raises the question, if the victim retains the right to sue, but the victim has since died, who can pursue their lawsuit?
The Survival Statute states that the executor of the deceased person's estate has the authority to continue any personal injury claims that the deceased person had at the time of their death. In many instances, the executor of the estate is also one of the relatives (a spouse, parent, or child) who has a statutory wrongful death claim. In these instances, the executor can pursue their own claim, as well as the estate's.
It's important to know that the executor charged with bringing a survival claim does not have to be a spouse, parent or child. This means that if the executor is the deceased person's brother, the brother (who doesn't have a wrongful death claim) can pursue the claim on behalf of the estate. Since literally any trusted person can be named executor of the estate, a survival claim, at times, is the only tool available to hold a wrongdoer accountable, since not every person has a spouse, parent, or child to bring a wrongful death claim.
What Triggers a Survival Claim?
At this point, you may be thinking, "If the law allows survival claims, why do we need wrongful death law?" Without getting too far into the weeds, the answer to this question is that they attempt to address to different concerns. A wrongful death claim belongs to the relative who can bring the claim. It compensates them for losing a spouse, parent, or child. On the other hand survival claims seek to prevent bad actors from getting away with their actions just because the person they injured died, either due to the initial injury or some other circumstance while the case is underway.
Under Texas law, in order for their to be a valid survival claim, the victim must have endured conscious suffering. What does this mean in practice?
Let's suppose Tammy is walking in the store when a shelf collapses on her. If the shelf hits Tammy and kills her instantly, then there is no survival claim because Tammy did not experience conscious suffering. If on the other hand, Tammy is trapped under the shelf, calling for help, and later dies of her injuries, then it is quite likely that Tammy's estate can bring a claim against the store for the injuries she endured.
So we can see that if a person suffers an injury and has some awareness of that fact, then the estate can probably bring a survival claim in the even the victim later succumbs to their injuries. In cases, where a person dies instantly, then there is no survival claim, and it is up to the wrongful death claimants to hold the wrongdoer accountable.
How Long Does the Estate Have to Bring a Survival Claim?
The statute of limitations for a survival claim in Texas is two years. This means the executor must file suit within 2 years of the incident that created the personal injury claim or the claim ceases to be actionable. The reason that survival claims have the same statute of limitations as a personal injury claim is because it is a personal injury claim continued after the claimant's death.
It's not just the statute of limitations, but the entirety of personal injury law that applies to survival claims and wrongful death lawsuits. Let's discuss the basic outlines of personal injury law.
How Personal Injury Law Works (Generally)
We've mentioned it a couple of times already, but it's bears repeating, a wrongful death cause of action and a survival claim are built upon an underlying personal injury claim.
Given that personal injury law is the foundation of your claim, it's important to understand how personal injury law works in order to truly understand your case. While wrongful death law and the Survival Statue provide the basis to start your lawsuit, personal injury laws tell you what you need to prove, how to go about proving it, and what compensation is available for you should you're case prevail.
Personal Injury Law is Negligence Law
The typical personal injury case results from someone behaving in a careless manner that causes another person's injury or death. This careless behavior is what lawyers refer to as negligence. Given that most injuries that result in lawsuits stem from negligent behavior, as opposed to one person intentionally trying to hurt someone, it's not a stretch to say that personal injury law is negligence law.
In a negligence case victims must prove 3 elements in order to prevail in their case. Elements are the legal term for the building blocks that make up a successful cause of action. To put it another way, they're like the ingredients in a dish. If you don't have all the ingredients in a particular dish, you can't make it. In the same way, if you don't prove all the elements necessary to make your case, you can't win your case. To prevail in a personal injury case, the person bringing the case (the claimant) must prove:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty.
- The victim breeched that duty.
- That breeched duty was the proximate cause of the injury or death the victim sustained.
Let's take a moment and break each of these elements down in turn.
The first element for a successful wrongful death claim is proving that the person accused of causing your loved one's death owed them a duty. There are three primary ways that the law imposes duties on us; first, legislators can pass a law prohibiting or requiring certain behavior; second, the law imposes general standards of behavior that apply to all people engaged in an activity at all times; lastly, the law imposes additional burdens on people who choose to engage in an activity the requires expertise (think lawyers, doctors, financial planners). Let's take a closer look at how each of these work.
Duty as Established by Law
Everyone knows that roads have speed limits. Officials set this limits in the interest of safety for everyone who uses roads. So when someone exceeds these limits and harms another person, they can be held accountable, because the whole point of speed limits is to prohibit dangerous behavior that might harm someone. This is an example of a duty imposed on us via the law.
The General Duty to Behave as a Reasonably Prudent Person
While there are behaviors that represent such a risk to safety that lawmakers will pass a law to prohibit them, it would be impossible for legislators to conceive of and pass laws to prohibit every possible dangerous behavior that people can engage in. Rather than attempt this impossible task, our legal system imposes upon all of a us a duty to behave in a way that doesn't endanger others.
We refer to this standard as the reasonable person standard. Each and every one of us is expected to behave as a person of average intelligence would in almost every situation to avoid harming other people.
For instance, suppose you're in the park and come across a flaming torch juggler. You can read the entire Texas Code and you'll never come across a single regulation about flaming torch juggling. Does this mean that if the torch juggler screws up and tosses a flaming torch in your direction that ends up burning you that you can't hold the juggler accountable for his actions? Of course not. You could probably file a lawsuit alleging that the juggler failed to act as a reasonably prudent person, which in turn led to your injuries.
The Duty to Behave as a Reasonably Prudent Professional
The law also recognizes that some people have the potential to cause great harm because we rely on their purported expertise. We go to doctors because we don't know as much about medicine as they do. We hire financial planners because they know more about investing and tax law than we do. We even license commercial truck drivers, because we recognize that not just anyone can safely drive an 18-wheeler.
We rely on doctors to treat out diseases, financial planners to keep us from going broke, and truck drivers not to kill us on the roads. When these professionals screw up, the consequences can be dire. As such, in their professional capacity, these people take on duties that the rest of us don't have. For instance, unless your best friend is a doctor, if they tell you to take a couple ibuprofen to treat your headache, you can't turn around and sue them if you have an allergic reaction that lands you in the hospital. Now, if a doctor were to tell you the same thing, without first asking if you're allergic to ibuprofen, then you probably have a claim against the doctor for her bad advice.
The heightened standard to which we hold people who operate in a professional capacity is referred to as the reasonably prudent professional standard. Since the average person relies on the training and specialized knowledge of these professionals, when they screw up and harm someone, they can be held accountable for their actions in ways that wouldn't apply to an ordinary person.
Professionals not only have to perform their job in accordance with the general safety expectations of their field, but they're also expected to know and comply with relevant regulations.
Perhaps the clearest example of this involves truck drivers. Federal regulations specify that truck drivers must place safety triangles or flairs at specific intervals to alert motorists in the event their vehicle stops in the roadway or becomes disabled. Let's say a driver puts out two flares instead of three (the number the regulation requires). Another vehicle drives along, doesn't receive adequate warning, and crashes into the back of the truck. In this instance, by failing to follow the regulation, the truck driver could potentially be on the hook for any resulting injuries or deaths.
By contrast, if you're on regular driver who becomes disabled on the side of the road and you put out a single flair, it's much less likely you'd be responsible should someone crash into the back of your vehicle. The reason in that truck drivers are professionals and held to a higher standard of care.
How Does Duty Impact Your Case?
As previously mentioned, proving that the person who caused your loved one's death owed them a duty is the first step to making your case. While in certain instances, the type of duty that the defendant failed to fulfil can impact how you argue your case, for the purposes of establishing whether the defendant owed your loved a duty, it doesn't matter if it's a general duty, a law that wasn't followed, or a regulation ignored, any of these can work to establish the duty element of your case.
Once you and your attorneys have established that the person whose behavior led to your loved one's death owed them a duty, we move on to the next element needed to have a valid lawsuit.
Unlike duty, breach is a bit of a freebie, as far as making your case goes. It simply means that the defendant failed to fulfil the duty they owed to your loved one. In our more than 3 decades litigating wrongful death cases, we have never seen a single defense attorney try to argue that a breach didn't occur. While a technical requirement for your case, since this element is never in dispute, we'll move on to the next element.
At the end of the day, wrongful death lawsuits serve to hold defenders accountable for their actions and allow claimants to recover their losses. We covered this ground before, but it bears repeating, since no lawsuit can bring back a loved one, our legal system uses money to compensate for the loss of a loved one, because, as we mentioned earlier, while money is a crude tool, it's the only one we have.
To refine that crude tool, you don't just walk into a court with a price in mind for what your loved one's life was worth. That's not just impossible, but would be an incredibly cruel way to do things. Instead, courts have certain recognized categories of damages for which you can recover. Damages are legally recognized categories of losses that people suffer.
Before we go over the different categories of damages that you can ask to recover in a Texas wrongful death lawsuit, let's look at an example of one scenario and one type of damages.
Suppose Charles is a man in his 40s, with a wife and two small kids. Charles is the family's breadwinner, while his wife is a full-time homemaker, who supplements the family's income with a part-time job. One day, Charles is driving home from work when he's struck and killed by a drunk driver that ran a red light. Before we even talk about what it means for a wife to lose her husband or for children to lose their father, let's stop and think about some of the pressing financial concerns this family will have. Charles' wife still has to make sure her kids have food and clothes. Her mortgage payment is still due at the end of the month. Her phone and electric bills still have to be paid. Not only did she lose her husband, but she lost the income he provided for the family.
Without discussing the pain and loss of losing a husband and father, the loss of his income has the potential to financially devastate the family. Were Charles' wife to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver and any bar or restaurant that unlawfully served him, she would frame part of the damages sought as loss of decedent's earning capacity. This category would allow her to the ability to recover the future income, which Charles would have provided had the drunk driver not killed him.
Here's the full list of damages that a victim can seek in a lawsuit:
- Loss of the Decedent's Earning Capacity - Most people work, bringing in needed revenue to the household budget. In many instances, children and spouses depend on a breadwinner for their financial survival. In those cases, recovering this loss is all that prevents the surviving family members from falling into financial ruin.
- Loss of Advice and Counsel - Close family members often play an outsized role in the important decisions we make in life. Whether it be helping with investing or even purchasing cars and houses at better prices, the advice of close family members can have an impact measured in dollars saved or earned by other family members.
- Loss of Services - Who mows the grass at your house? Who cleans the bathrooms? Who does the laundry? Do you have a family member that doesn't even know how to boil water? Beyond the emotional ties, families also have their own division of labor. It takes a lot of work to keep a household running and losing an extra pair of hands places a burden on most families. That's why the monetary value of replacing the services that a family member provides is recoverable.
- Expenses for Psychological Treatment - For many people, professional help after the death of a loved one is a necessary service. This is particularly true of those who lose a loved one unexpectedly to another person's carelessness. The costs incurred from this treatment are recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Funeral Expenses - Recovering the costs of a loved one's funeral in court can be tricky. The law assumes that the loved one's estate pays for these costs, so wrongful death claimants must prove that the costs came out of their pockets in order to recover these losses.
- Mental Anguish - It's easy to confuse mental anguish with expenses for psychological treatment, but there is a difference. Mental Anguish seeks to compensate victims for the pain they experience losing a loved one, which is a separate matter from any costs associated with dealing with that pain. The law recognizes that no one would willingly choose to lose a loved one, so the fact that you did is a loss that deserves compensation.
- Loss of Companionship and Society - These damages recognize that having a spouse, parent, or child has a value of its own, which can't be replaced. They compensate victims for that loss.
- Loss of Inheritance - This is a tricky type of damages. It supposes that had a loved one not met an untimely demise, then their heirs would have received a larger inheritance. Proving these damages requires claimants to prove two things. First, they must prove that the deceased loved one generated income in excess of their needs. A person living paycheck to paycheck is unlikely to leave much to their heirs. Secondly, surviving claimants must prove that it's likely that their loved one would have died before them and left an inheritance in the first place.
- Exemplary Damages - The purpose of exemplary damages is to punish wrongdoers found to have committed gross negligence. Unlike ordinary negligence, gross negligence is an action so careless that it "shocks the senses." The classic example of gross negligence is a person firing a gun into a crowd. They don't intend to kill anyone in particular, but the act is so dangerous that it's likely someone may die.
As you surely gathered from the name, proving causation involves establishing that actions taken by another person led to your loved one's death. These actions literally caused your loved one to lose their life.
Proving another person caused someone's death is not as straightforward as it sounds. You don't just get on the witness stand and point a finger at the responsible party. Instead, the law requires you to prove two sub-elements to establish causation in a legal sense. Those elements are:
- Cause in Fact (using the "but for" test)
If you and your attorneys can prove both sub-elements, you established causation and satisfy the last element of your case. Let's examine in detail what each sub-element requires.
Cause in Fact
Cause in fact is the legal term for the one action in a series of actions that led to a particular outcome. The formulation courts and attorneys use is like a math formula, "but for X, Y would not have occurred." This is known as the but for test. Now before we discuss how and why courts use this particular test, it's necessary to take a step back and acknowledge that outside of courts, it's not the only way to determine causation.
Absent the but for test, determining causation in a strictly logical sense can be incredibly simple or exceptionally complex. Logically, we can argue that every single event, from a person's birth, to the schools they attended, right up to what they had for breakfast led them to the moment when an incident occurred. Had they been born in a different state, they likely wouldn't have been at the scene of their accident. Had they gone to college or decided not to go to college, their life would have turned out differently. If they stayed home the morning of their incident, instead of grabbing breakfast on the road, they and whoever caused their accident wouldn't have crossed paths.
The problems with determining causation strictly based on logic are obvious. Logic alone can't sufficiently narrow the scope of the inquiry to yield a satisfying answer. More importantly, on its own, logic can come up with absurd outcomes. Yes, if John had taken an hour to eat a steak and eggs breakfast he wouldn't have been at the intersection when the 18-wheeler ran the red light, but to say that his breakfast choice played a larger role in causing his crash than the 18-wheeler running a red light is absurd on its face.
To avoid such absurdities, Texas courts used the previously discussed but for test. They don't care what John had for breakfast, where he was born, or other factors that in a strictly logical sense put the person at the specific accident location at a specific time. Instead, they seek to find the act, which had it not happened, the accident would not have occurred.
The statements "but for John eating steak and eggs for breakfast, the accident would not have occurred," and "but for the 18-wheeler running the red light, the accident would not have occurred," are both equally logical. However, only one passes the smell test and yields a result that most people can agree is just.
With all of that being said, in your wrongful death case, establishing cause in fact is only one half of what you need to do to prove causation. Let's examine the other requirement, foreseeability.
Foreseeability is an important idea, with a really bizarre origin. The idea behind foreseeability is that people can only be held responsible for an act if a reasonable person could anticipate that their actions would lead to a particular consequence. Another way to put it is that people aren't responsible when their actions lead to a freak occurrence that no one could have anticipated.
For the first 300 years of courts in America, proving causation was simply a matter of proving cause in fact. However, in the 1920s a truly bizarre case arose in New York. It began when two men were late for train. They didn't want to miss the train, so they ran and attempted to jump on the train. The first man made it with ease, while the second, who was carrying a large, unmarked packed, needed a push from two railroad station workers, in order not to fall on the tracks.
While the second man made it onto the train, he dropped his package which, known only to him, contained fireworks. In a bizarre series of events, the package fell, causing the fireworks to explode, which in turn led to a coin-operated scale falling over onto a woman, Mrs. Palsgraf, who was waiting for a train at the other end of the tracks. Mrs. Palsgraf suffered minor injuries, but later developed what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She sued the railroad, alleging that the two railroad workers pushing the man with the fireworks onto a moving train caused the man do drop his fireworks, the fall caused the fireworks to explode, which then led to the scale tipping over and, in turn, causing her injuries. Since the jury was only allowed to consider the cause in fact, or the one event that set the whole chain in motion, they ruled in Mrs. Palsgraf's favor.
However, on a appeal, judges concluded that there was no way the railroad workers, or anyone else for that matter, could foresee that pushing a man onto a train could set into motion the chain of events that injured Mrs. Palsgraf. As a result, they overturned the jury verdict and rule in favor of the railroad.
Over the intervening years, courts around the country, including those in Texas, adopted a foreseeability sub-element when determining causation. In the context of wrongful death law, this means that victims not only have to prove that a person's actions led to their loved one's death, but that a person dying is a consequence that a reasonable person could anticipate arising from those actions.
To recap, in order to have a successful wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove:
- The defendant owed your loved one a duty.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- The defendant's actions caused you to suffer damages (losses).
- The defendant's actions caused your loved one's death.
Of course, knowing what you need to prove is only half the battle. It's also important to know to what degree you need to prove you allegations. We'll tackled that subject next.
Burden of Proof
While negligence law tells you what you must prove to have a valid case, the burden of proof deals with the degree to which you need to prove it. In a personal injury case, you must prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. The easiest way to envision this standard is as the scales of justice in action. Place your evidence on one side of the scale and the defendant's on the other, and whoever's evidence tips the scale in their favor wins the case.
Looking at burden of proof this way raises two questions:
- Who decides what evidence goes on the scale?
- Who determines what weight to give to each piece of evidence?
The answer to both questions is that those decisions are left to a jury. For example, let's assume you're driving in a remote area when another driver rear-ends your vehicle, injuring you in the process. The other driver's insurance company refuses to settle your claim, because the other driver claims you cut them off while trying to pass them. You're forced to sue and resolve the matter in court.
You now have the burden to prove that the other driver owed you a duty, breached it, and caused your injuries. What evidence do you have to tell your story? In this scenario, it's likely that the only evidence available is your story, the other driver's, and the vehicles involved in the crash.
Let's assume that examining the vehicles can't tell definitively one way or the other who caused the wreck. What we're left with is your word against the other driver's. How is a jury to decide between these two conflicting stories? The answer is that the jury will listen to both stories and jurors will use their own judgement to determine who is more credible. Perhaps, you come across as an honest person, while the other driver seems like they have something to hide. In that instance, the jury is free to give your testimony more weight than the other driver's. They weigh your testimony against the other driver's in their minds and could potentially rule in your favor based on that alone. On the other hand, maybe they just can't picture the other driver lying to them and choose to discount your testimony. In that case, you lose your case.
Short of coming to a decision with absolutely no basis in the evidence, a jury has a free hand to determine whether or not you meet the burden of proof in your case.
Once a jury decides which evidence meets the burden of proof, their next task is to use that evidence to assign blame, or apportion fault among the participants in a case. The way this works varies from state to state, but Texas employs a system known as modified comparative fault.
There are two important things you must understand about modified comparative fault. The first is that it allows a victim to recover their losses, so long as the victim is not more responsible for causing their injuries than the other parties in the incident. The other important thing to understand is that modified comparative fault only forces the defendant to pay the victim in proportion to their responsibility for the incident.
Let's unpack that a little with an example. Jose is sitting in his car, stopped at a red light, when Smitty, driving a delivery truck, fails to slow down and rear-ends Jose's car. As a result of the collision, Jose suffers a shattered femur. Jose sues Smitty, and the case ends up going to trial. The evidence shows that the crash happened exactly as described above. In that scenario, it's likely that the jury will put 100% of the fault on Smitty. Jose will also be responsible for all of Smitty's losses.
In the real world, scenarios where one party is completely at fault, while the other is entirely blameless are rare. Driving is complex, and few people follow all of the rules of the road, all of the time. To see how juries apportion fault in most cases, we need to look at an example that isn't so clear-cut.
Suppose that Smitty and his delivery truck are at a stop sign on a side street, waiting to turn onto a main road. Smitty pulls out in front of Jose's car, causing Jose's car to strike the side of Smitty's truck, breaking Jose's femur. Jose claims that Smitty's failure to yield the right of way caused the crash and his injuries. On the contrary, Smitty claims that he looked and saw a clear roadway, then turned out onto the road. However, partway through the turn, Jose came speeding up and crashed into his truck.
During the trial, Smitty's attorneys present convincing evidence that, at the time of the crash, Jose was going 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Smitty's attorneys then argue two things:
- But for Jose speeding, the crash would not have occurred;
- had Jose been doing the speed limit, the crash would have occurred at a lower speed, and Jose wouldn't have broken his leg.
What is the jury to do with these arguments? Smitty shouldn't have pulled out in front of Jose, but at the same time, Jose shouldn't have been speeding. A reasonable jury will still likely look at that fact pattern and put most of the blame on Smitty, but they're not going to let Jose off the hook entirely. Perhaps, they would conclude that Smitty is 90% to blame for the crash and place 10% of the fault on Jose. In such an instance, Smitty only owes Jose 90% of his losses and it's up to Jose to take care of the rest.
If Jose had been driving even faster over the speed limit, it's likely a jury would place more blame on him. In fact, it's likely that if Jose was doing 40 or 50 miles per hour over the speed limit, a jury might find him responsible for the crash entirely, not Smitty. In that case Jose gets nothing.
The fact that modified comparative fault prevents a victim for recovering their losses if they are 51% or more to blame for their injuries has implications we'll discuss later, when we go into greater detail about litigation strategy.
Everything we've already discussed is theory. Now, it's important that you understand that theory, in order to evaluate your attorney's performance, but while anyone can learn and understand the basic outlines of wrongful death law, putting it into practice and building a successful case is a whole different animal. It takes most attorneys years to translate the theory of law into a workable litigation strategy that seeks to obtain results for clients. We'll discuss that process in the next chapter.
Pursuing Your Wrongful Death Claim
Knowing you have a wrongful death claim might leave you feeling a bit like the dog that finally catches a car. It's not uncommon to hear you have a right and think something like, "It's awesome that I have this right, but how do I use it to achieve a result?" Make no mistake, no one from the government, no from from a non-profit, and certainly the person responsible for your loved one's death will lift a finger to help you exercise your right to pursue a wrongful death claim. The ball is in your court when it comes to turning your rights into action. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone.
In this section, we'll discuss how we believe a wrongful death claim should be handled from investigation through to a jury verdict.
Before we being, in the movie Training Day, the grizzled, veteran police officer emphasizes to his inexperienced trainee, that when it comes to making a case, "it's not what you know, it's what you can prove." The same lesson applies to pursuing a wrongful death case. Knowing whose actions led to your loved one's death is completely different from proving that person liable in court.
Investigation and litigation are the processes by which we turn what you know into what you can prove to a jury. The key to any case is evidence. Evidence consists of the documents, physical clues, expert opinion, and witness accounts that bolster your version of events. The purpose of an investigation is to gather as much evidence as possible, while the litigation process fashions that evidence into legally compelling arguments and deploys them to turn your right into a tangible result. Let's discuss in greater detail how each of these processes work.
While there are firms out there that believe the first thing you do in any case is to file a lawsuit, our firm takes a different approach. We believe that before you start suing people and accusing them of being responsible for someone's death, it's best to get your ducks in a row by investigating the matter and gaining a clearer picture of what happened and who is to blame.
Here's a story that perfect illustrates why we approach wrongful death cases the way that we do.
A Grossman Law Offices Investigation Uncovers Gross Negligence in a Workers' Death
We were hired by the family of a man who died at a construction site. The only thing the family knew is that their loved one died after falling 60 feet from an aerial work platform. As soon the client hired us, we drove to the accident site and began our investigation.
Once on site, with and occupational safety expert in tow, we spoke to all the workers, looked over the company's employee timecards, made contact with OSHA investigators, and took copious pictures of the worksite. After speaking with every worker who was present at the time of the crash, the story they told was that the worker lost his balance, hadn't properly secured his safety harness, and fell to his death. By all appearances, it looked like an unfortunate accident.
Two things jumped out to us from this initial investigation. First, every one told the exact same story. This is a big red flag because witnesses never tell a story in exactly the same way. When there stories match perfectly, it's usually a sign they practiced what they were going to say ahead of time. The second thing that didn't sit right with us was that there was one person who was on the clock and working at the time of the accident, but wasn't on the scene the day we interviewed the company's employees.
We managed to track down the missing co-worker, right as he was boarding a bus to leave the country. His version of events was not the same rehearsed story that we heard from the others. Instead, he told us that the crane operator and the owner of the construction company got into a literal fistfight moments before the incident. During the course of the fight, one of them struck the controls for the crane, causing it to lurch forward, and propel our client's loved one off the platform and down to the ground. Despite the fall, the worker, though severely injured, was still alive.
At this point, instead of seeking medical help, the company's owner realized that the worker didn't have a safety harness. Rather than call for help, he drove to a pawn shop 30 minutes away, purchased a safety harness, returned to the site, and placed it on his employee, who had died in the meantime. He did this to avoid the likely repercussions for failing to provide his workers with safety harnesses in the first place. After our witness refused to participate in the cover-up, the owner fired him, which is why he wasn't there when we interviewed the rest of the employees.
Upon hearing this story, we first made arrangements for the witness to stay in the country, so that he could be available to testify. Then we tracked down the pawn shop where the owner purchased the safety harness and obtained a copy of the sales receipt and video footage of the owner buying the harness.
The investigation showed that what at first appeared to be a worker who basically caused his own death, instead was one of the most shocking cases of gross negligence (carelessness that shocks the senses) we have seen in our careers.
If we had jumped the gun and immediately filed a lawsuit, we wouldn't have known about this shocking behavior and we may have lost the witness, whose testimony ultimately unraveled the cover-up. That's why we believe it's important to begin every case with a thorough investigation. Whether it's securing witness testimony, gathering receipts and medical records, locating video evidence, or even obtaining relevant documents like training manuals, each of these pieces of evidence represents a puzzle piece necessary to have the whole picture of an incident.
Just to be clear, not every case we investigate results in a bombshell discovery like the one we just discussed, but there's no way to know what evidence is out there and who all the parties to blame for an incident are until you investigate. That's why we start every case there.
To recap, investigations seek to uncover all the available evidence in your case, which provides the raw material to bolster the claims you make in your lawsuit.
In general, any sort of legal process that requires the use of a court is referred to as litigation. The end goal of litigation is presenting the best possible argument before a jury. Now, this doesn't mean the parties to a case can't settle. In fact, the vast majority of cases settle before the case ever goes to trial, but the reason they settle is usually because one side does not want to take a chance of their case being heard by a jury. That pressure forces one side or another to cut the best deal they can.
Absent a settlement, the litigation stage proceeds through the same steps in every case. They are:
- Filing a lawsuit — The difference between an investigation and litigation is that investigations don't involve using the powers of a court, while litigation does. Filing suit is basically a matter of stating a wrong and asking the court to use its powers to help resolve a dispute between parties.
- Discovery — This is by far the longest part of the litigation process. In many instances, discovery can last a year or more. During this part of the process, your attorney and defendant exchange requests for information. Your attorney will want to the defendant's insurance information, relevant company documents, recordings the defendant may possess, among any other information relevant to your case. Should a defendant not wish to hand over any information, then your attorney will request the court to subpoena, or use its power, to force the defendant to hand over relevant evidence.
- Depositions — Once your attorneys establish a solid evidentiary record in the case, important participants in the case will sit for sworn testimony called depositions. Under oath, attorneys from both sides of the dispute will ask questions of those involved in the case. This can open up avenues for further investigation, but it also allows attorneys to gauge how well witnesses will perform should the case go to trial.
- Mediation — Once your case has taken shape via evidence and sworn testimony, the court will usually order both sides to attempt to resolve their dispute through mediation. This is a formal process where both sides gather at a single location, present the highlights of their case to a mediator (who is usually an attorney that's not involved in the case or a retired just), and both side can exchange settlement offers. The mediators role in this process is essentially to make whichever side has the worse case to see the light and offer to compromise.
- Trial — If a case doesn't settle before this point, it goes to trial. Most people have a general idea that trial involves witnesses testifying, presenting evidence, and then a jury decides who is to blame and how much they must pay. What most wrongful death claimants don't realize is that very few cases actually make it to trial. In spite of this fact, a skilled wrongful death attorney knows that there is no way to predict which cases will go to trial and which cases won't, that is why they should prepare to argue each and every case in court.
There are sometimes cases that don't follow these stages. For instance, in many work fatality cases, the employee may have signed a binding arbitration agreement which is a contract that limits the employee's rights to sue the employer in court. Instead, the agreement requires that the case is pursued through a privately-owned pseudo court process called arbitration. When an arbitration agreement exists, it usually applies to any wrongful death claims that a deceased workers' loved ones may bring against the employer.
Arbitration is considerably different than trial. The principles are the same, but the process is quite different.
Whether it's through the courts or arbitration, the goal of wrongful death proceedings remains the same, to impose a cost on the person, persons, or companies responsible for your loved one's death. This is done by gathering evidence (investigation) and refining that evidence into persuasive legal arguments (litigation).
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is My Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth?
Wrongful death cases can range in value from the low six-figures to multiple millions of dollars. How do you know where your particular case falls in that rather large? While there's no "Value of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Chart" we can consult, it doesn't mean that there aren't general rules we can derive from our experience litigating wrongful death cases.
When you get down to brass tacks, it's what a jury would award you that determines the value of your case. In situations where a family loses a breadwinner or small children are left without a parent, it really doesn't matter where the jury is or who sits on it, such cases generally result in awards of multiple millions of dollars.
Where juries in different parts of the state tend to differ is in how they value cases in situations that aren't as tragic as a spouse losing their partner, or small children during their formative years losing a parent. For example, when a middle-age, grown child loses his/her elderly parent to someone's carelessness, a jury in one part of the state might consider that to only be worth a couple hundred thousand dollars, whereas jurors elsewhere would still view it as a multi-million dollar loss.
Given that factors like the state of the relationship and whether or not the claimant was financially dependent on the deceased can also factor into how much the case is worth, it easy to see why valuing a case is so fact dependent. If you'd like to discuss the circumstances of your potential case, please call and we can give you a more accurate case value, based on your personal circumstances.
Do I Need My Own Attorney or Do All Wrongful Death Claimants Share an Attorney?
As a matter of law, each wrongful death claimant's case belongs to them and them alone. For instance, if a drunk driver kills a married woman with two adult children, her husband and two surviving children each have their own claim. This means they could each hire their own attorneys and file their own lawsuits if they wish to do so. At the same time, there's nothing stopping the three of them from agreeing on a single attorney and pursuing their individual cases together.
The latter approach has some major advantages. By presenting a united front, the claimants can prevent the other side from adopting a divide and conquer approach to litigation. By this we mean that when everyone has an attorney pursuing their own case as vigorously as possible, it is sometimes prudent for one claimant to diminish the value of another claimant's losses. This has the effect of reducing the overall payout in the case, which means the wrongdoer isn't punished as harshly as they would otherwise have been. Working as a team also allows the family to decide how to divide their potential winnings ahead of time, which can reduce any hurt feelings down the road.
Of course, this approach is only an ideal. As attorneys, we work in the real world and understand that sometimes it's just not possible for claimants to work together on a case. Surviving parents and children aren't always on speaking terms with one another, but that doesn't mean they didn't have close relationships with their lost loved one. That's fine, too. It's our job to litigate the case before us. If that means we must cooperate with another law firm who represents another claimant in the case, we consider any complications that may arise to be our problem, not yours.
How Long Does it Take to Resolve Wrongful Death Case in Texas?
Typically, it takes 1 to 2 years to successfully litigate a wrongful death case. Most cases fall within this range, but some cases take less time, while others can stretch out for years.
Unfortunately for you, the claimant, there is no way to accurately predict ahead of time how long it will take to resolve your case. With that said, even though your attorney cannot predict from the outset how long it will take to resolve your case, something should always be happening to move your case forward. Whether it's seeking documentation, taking depositions, or preparing for trial, your attorney should always be doing something that pushes your case closer to a successful resolution. If that isn't occurring, then you may need to seek a second opinion.
Can I Be Tricked into Signing Away My Rights to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
It may surprise you to learn that representatives for the person or entity that caused your loved one's death will often reach out to victims after a crash to gauge your interest in quickly resolving the matter. Generally, their approach is to offer you some amount of money in exchange for you signing away your right to sue them.
As you can imagine, this offer is generally favorable to whomever is responsible for your loved one's death. To make matters worse, representatives often present such offers as "goodwill gestures" or a sign "they just want to do what's right." Their goal is to get you to sign away your right to sue, usually without paying you anything close to the full value of your case. Therefore, we recommend you never sign anything in exchange for the promise of money without having a personal injury attorney look over the document ahead of time.
In Cases with Multiple Claimants, How Are the Winnings Divided?
There is no formula set by the courts to divide the winnings from a wrongful death case. In cases that go to trial, the jury will decide who gets what. Of course, as previously mentioned, more than 90% of cases settle before trial. How is money divided in those cases?
When a wrongful death case with multiple claimants settles before trial, the claimants must work out for themselves how to divide the money. One issue solved having all of the claimants on the same team, represented by the same attorney is how to divide any winnings. When they're working together, claimants usually agree ahead of time how divvy up the winnings, in a way that saves the hassle of fighting over who gets what after the case concludes.
How Much Does it Cost to Hire Grossman Law Offices?
Hiring Grossman Law Offices is as simple as signing your name to a one-page contract. We take no money upfront; instead, we operate on what is known as a contingency fee model. Here's how that works. We only get paid if you win your case. The amount we're paid is a percentage of the winnings, which means the better we do for you, the better it is for us as well. This ensures that our interests align.
The percentages paid in attorneys fees vary based on whether or not we file suit in the case. If we can resolve your case without filing suit, then our fee is one-third of the winnings. Should it be necessary to file suit to resolve your case, then our firm keeps 40% of the winnings. In addition we front all the costs of your case, such as court fees, expert witness fees, and other costs associated with investigating and litigating your case. If we don't win your case, we won't send you a bill for these costs, the firm will take care of them. However, if we do win your case, then these costs are repaid out of the winnings. Ultimately, if we don't win, you don't pay us a penny.
Where Is Grossman Law Offices Located?
Grossman Law Offices' main office is in Dallas, Texas, but our attorneys are licensed to practice throughout Texas. This means that whether you're in Brownsville or Amarillo, El Paso or Beaumont, Grossman Law Offices litigates cases in your town.