A Summary of the Texas Wrongful Death Act
When someone dies from a preventable cause, and someone else is responsible for negligence that contributed to that death, the family members of the deceased person are protected under the Texas Wrongful Death Act. Just as the debts due and owed follow the deceased person after death, so do liability claims. The Texas Wrongful Death Act was established for this reason, in order for the family members of the person who lost their life to receive justice on behalf of their loved one. Just because the person is no longer able to speak for themselves, this doesn’t mean that those responsible for their wrongful death are no longer accountable. Wrongful death is one of the most serious of offenses against someone, and the close family members who are left now represent the deceased as the plaintiffs in the case.
The Five Elements of the Wrongful Death Act
There are five elements of a cause of action for wrongful death. All of these elements, listed in Chapter 7-B of the Texas Causes of Action, must be met in order for the plaintiffs to have a case. These five elements are:
- The plaintiff is a statutory beneficiary of the decedent.
- The defendant is a person or corporation.
The defendant, the one being held accountable for the wrongful death, must be either an individual, or a corporation (an entity that has employer/employee relationships).
- The defendant’s wrongful act caused the death of the decedent.
In Texas, in order to prove that the defendant caused the death, the jury must find the defendant more than 50% at fault. If the decedent is found partially responsible, the defendant is still considered the cause of death unless the decedent is found to be the one more than 50% at fault. This is called the Doctrine of Modified Comparative Fault.
- The decedent would have been entitled to bring an action for the injury if he or she had lived.
As mentioned earlier, just because the injured person is no longer alive to defend himself or herself, it doesn’t mean that he or she no longer requires justice for the wrong that has been done. If the person had survived the accident, he or she would have been able to file an injury claim. In this case, because the person is deceased, the family is the one having to file the claim.
- The plaintiff suffered actual injury.
The final element has to do with the pain and suffering of the family member, and is in place to protect family members who did suffer from the death of the decedent from family members who want to benefit monetarily only because of their blood relation. In this case, for example, if someone is a biological parent whose child was adopted, he or she would not be able to make a claim against the defendant.
A statutory beneficiary in Texas is a parent, spouse, or child of the decedent (deceased person). In order to make a claim under the Texas Wrongful Death Act, the plaintiff must fall under one of these three categories.
Examples of Wrongful Death Claims
- Gary was killed in an accident with a commercial truck when the truck’s brakes failed and the truck driver was unable to stop in time. Gary’s wife Kayla files a claim against the company on behalf of Gary for herself and their 6 year old daughter. Evidence proves that the trucking company knew the brakes needed to be replaced, but kept the truck in service anyway.
- Maria and her daughter Sonya are crossing a bridge at an amusement park when Sonya leans against the rail. The rail breaks and Sonya falls over ten feet, sustaining severe injuries which result in her death. Maria files a wrongful death premises liability claim against the amusement park for providing the unsafe environment which resulted in Sonya’s death.
Again, this is a case where the five elements have all been met. Maria is Sonya’s mother, and the defendant is the amusement park corporation, which provided the dangerous premises that resulted in Sonya’s death. Maria suffered great emotional losses from the death of her only child in an accident which could have been prevented.
In this case, there would be a Wrongful Death Claim because it meets all of the five elements. The plaintiffs are statutory beneficiaries because they are the spouse and child of the decedent. The defendant is a corporation (the trucking company) whose wrongful act (keeping a dangerous truck in service) was the cause of the decedent’s death. If Gary had survived the accident, he would have been able to sue the trucking company for any injuries he sustained. Finally, Kayla and her daughter suffered injuries in companionship and financial support from Gary.
Your claim and the Wrongful Death Act
If your family member has been killed by a negligent act, but you’re unsure about some of the elements of your case, it would be helpful to talk to a lawyer to find out what difficulties you may face. With 25 years of experience, our attorneys are very familiar with how wrongful death cases work, and we know how painful it is for you to face these difficulties after such a tragic loss. We are free 24/7 to discuss your case with you. We always fight on the side of the victim, and never charge unless you win. Reach us any time at (855)326-0000.