If you have lost a spouse, parent, or child in a preventable accident or because of a violent act, you have the right to seek financial compensation by filing a wrongful death claim. However, it is not enough to simply go to court and state that a death was wrongful and that you deserve to recover. Instead, the law sets out strict requirements for family members to prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Texas Wrongful Death Statute sets out specific elements of a wrongful death claim that must exist for family members to prevail. Specifically, the law requires that the death is caused by one or more of the following:
- A party’s neglect;
- A party’s carelessness;
- A party’s unskillfulness;
- A party’s default (failure to fulfill an obligation);
- A party’s wrongful act.
The responsible party can be another individual, a company, a professional, or even a government entity. Terms such as “neglect” or “wrongful act” are not subjective and are specific legal principles that must be proven in a certain way. It is important to have an experienced attorney handling your case who fully understands how to prove the required elements of a wrongful death suit.
Many wrongful death actions arise out of negligence, which is a legal term that can encompass neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, and default as mentioned in the law. Proving negligence requires proving all of the following:
- The party owed a duty of care to the deceased victim;
- The party failed to uphold that duty of care;
- The failure resulted in the injuries that caused the death of the victim;
- The death resulted in losses.
There are many different duties of care that can apply in many different situations. For example, a driver must operate their vehicle in a manner that is reasonably safe to prevent injuries to other motorists. A doctor has the duty act in a manner that another reasonable doctor would act when presented with a certain situation.
A manufacturer has the duty to design, produce, and market goods that are reasonably safe for use and free from defects. A property owner has the duty to keep their property free from hazards that may be dangerous for visitors.
You must present evidence that any of these parties has acted inconsistently with their specific duty in order to prove negligence, which is easier in some cases than in others. If a doctor makes a serious surgical error that causes uncontrollable bleeding, evidence of the error is generally concrete and can be established as the cause of death relatively simply.
However, if a distracted driver caused a fatal collision, it can be complicated to prove they were not paying attention to the road. Some evidence in this situation may include witness testimony, cell phone records to prove they were texting at the time of the accident, or accident reconstruction experts who analyze the scene and can give their opinion that distracted driving was the cause of the crash.
The evidence necessary to prove negligence will be different in every case depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the death and the type of negligence that occurred.
Proving an Intentionally Wrongful Act
You may also pursue a wrongful death claim if your family member died because of a violent assault. This wrongful death case is handled in civil court and is separate from any criminal case brought by prosecutors.
However, the evidence gathered by law enforcement and used by prosecutors against the offender can also assist in proving wrongdoing against the party in a civil case.
Many people believe that if an individual is not convicted of a crime, they have no chance to recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, this is not the case and you still have the chance to prevail for wrongful death even if they were found not guilty in their criminal trial. This is because the burden of proof is much higher in criminal court than it is in civil court.
Criminal convictions require significantly more evidence and proof than is needed to successfully prove the elements of a wrongful death claim. One of the most infamous examples of this concept involves the death of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. While O.J. Simpson was not convicted of murder, he was found liable for wrongful death in the subsequent civil case filed by the families of the victims.
Proving Wrongful Death Damages
After you have proven negligence or an intentionally wrongful act on the part of the defendant, you must then provide adequate proof of the damages you are seeking in the lawsuit.
“Damages” refers to the compensation that you are seeking and you must prove that the amount you seek is justified based on your losses. The following are some examples of evidence that can be used to prove damages for wrongful death:
- Analysis and testimony of economic and occupational experts who can calculate lost income and earning capacity;
- Financial records and bills to prove other financial losses;
- Financial experts to estimate loss of inheritance;
- Testimony of therapists or psychologists regarding the emotional toll of the loss;
- Evidence that the quality of life has decreased due to the death.
Proving intangible damages can be complicated and you must often rely on the testimony and opinions of various experts to convince a jury that you deserve the amount requested. It is critical to have an attorney with the resources needed to prove the full amount that you deserve for your loss.
Discuss your Case with a Wrongful Death Attorney
Wrongful death cases involve proving various elements before you can recover for your losses. You should always ensure your lawyer has specific experience handling Texas wrongful death cases so you can trust they know how to prove every necessary element of a wrongful death claim. Please do not hesitate to call for a free consultation with the skilled lawyers at Sutliff & Stout today.