An Overview of the Texas Bystander Claim Cause of Action
Seeing a loved one suffer and injury or death is an experience more horrifying than most people could ever imagine. Unfortunatley, many Texans experience this horror firsthand, as they watch the wrongful conduct of a reckless individual wreak havoc on their loved one.
Texas law recognizes that family members who suffer in this fashion suffer mental injuries, and, as such, they are allowed to sue a negligent defendant the same as their family member can sue for their injuries. This is called a "bystander claim."
Keep in mind that bystander claims are additional causes of action on top of what is already available to the victim. Such a claim is a derived from the initial personal injury case. As such, the elements of the personal injury case must be proven before the bystander claim can be plead. Below, we'll hash out which family members have a bystander claim and what will need to be proven in order to successfully pursue a bystander case.
The courts restrict recovery to parents, siblings, children (natural or adopted), and grandparents of the person who was killed, though there is an unsettled matter of law as to whether other 'closely related" relatives can also pursue a bystander claim. None of these individuals must live with the victim at the time of the accident, but these relationships must be provable. To many, this list is antiquated because it does not encompass many modern families.
Perhaps in the coming years this will change, but live-in boyfriends and girlfriends, stepparents and stepchildren have no right to recover. Keep in mind, however, that Texas recognizes "informal marriage," where a couple that 1) lives together, 2) in Texas, and 3) holds themselves out as being husband and wife can qualify as spouses for the bystander claim. This type of relationship is often referred to as a "common law marriage."
To have a valid bystander claim in Texas you must have been at or near the accident when it happened
Remember, these are called "bystander" claims. Just like the term implies, one must have been in the vicinity of the accident as it unfolded. This cause of action is based on the immediate, unexpected horror of the accident.
There are a few narrow exceptions to this, however. For example, a man filed a bystander claim several years ago after finding his son after the boy fell down an elevator shaft at a hospital. The court found that even though the father did not actually see his son fall, he still qualified for bystander damages because he personally found his son after the accident. The legal turning point in that case was the fact that no one knew his son was injured or killed, and it was therefore an extreme, unexpected, and immediate shock when the father found the boy's body.
Another example of a case our firm has handled includes a young boy that witnessed his aunt be killed by an 18-wheeler. We were able to secure a substantial sum for the boy's bystander claim in addition to the money recovered for the aunt's family.
To have a valid bystander claim in Texas there has to have been additional, specific mental and emotional trauma
While this might seem to be very unnecessary to prove in a court, your emotional damages must have been the direct result of witnessing the traumatic accident. The accident you observed must have been so shocking that you suffered serious emotional trauma following the incident. This is typically proven simply by the witness's testimony of what they saw and how it affected them.
Injuries often include depression, extreme anxiety, insomnia, or nightmares. The key issue is that the symptoms must have been caused directly by witnessing an accident. For example, if you are claiming that you can no longer work because you have developed crippling depression and insomnia, you may not have a successful bystander claim if you were previously treated for these ailments prior to your loved one's injury.
Speak with an Experienced Texas Injury Lawyer About Your Claim
While many lawyers are simply unaware that bystander claims even exists, the lawyers at Grossman Law Offices have successfully litigated many clients' claims in courts all over Texas. These types of claims do not occur in a vacuum, but are part of a series of other traumas associated with the loss of a close relative. You don't have to suffer alone. We are here to help. Give us a call at (855) 326-0000.
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