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What is Wrongful Death?

People have been asking a lot lately about wrongful death claims because of all the publicity that the deaths of Michael Brown, Christian Taylor, and the Bumble Bee Tuna employee who was cooked to death in a massive oven have received.

There are lots of things to know about wrongful death, but the first is that the person’s family are the ones bringing the claim. The next thing to know is that in order for the family to bring the claim, the family member who died must have been able to pursue the claim had he lived. Meaning if the person who died had no claim before they were killed, then no claim exists after death. But, if the person did have a claim, such as a personal injury claim they could have brought, then the wrongful death action is available to the family.

But before we get too far, lets break it down some here so that we can understand the wrongful death claim a little bit more thoroughly.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is made by the survivors of someone who died as a result from injuries received that were somebody else’s fault. It is essentially a personal injury claim that is brought by the family because the person who was injured did not survive to exert their claim.

Who May Bring This Type of Claim?

In Texas, only the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person can bring the claim. If none of those family members bring a claim within three months of the person’s death, the personal representative deceased person’s estate may bring it on behalf of the family.

In Texas, distant family members, such as brothers, sisters, and grandparents are not covered under the wrongful death statute and cannot bring a claim.

Unlike some state, the Texas statute does not bar a claim by the parents of an unborn child. This means that if the child is killed while still in utero and the mother or father survives, they will be able to bring suit against the person who was at fault for the death of the child.

Does Contributory Negligence Affect the Recovery of the Survivors?

Yes, under the statutory framework in Texas, if the decedent was partly responsible for their injuries, then it is an affirmative defense and will reduce the recovery by the surviving family members. But in certain limited circumstances, such as the common law “unlawful acts” doctrine, certain acts of the deceased can have the effect of completely barring recovery for the surviving family members.

Who Can Be Sued Under Wrongful Death Claims, and Does the Government Have Immunity?

The wrongful death statute provides that a person, their agent or servant, can be sued under the statute. This covers the common everyday person or business owner, or their employees. In addition to that, the public utility companies, railroad, trucking companies, municipalities and governmental bodies such as the police can all be sued in Texas under the Wrongful Death Statute in Texas.

The Statute does not provide for immunity for police officers who cause the death of a person. This has been a hot topic recently with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year and most recently, the death of Christian Taylor here in Arlington, Texas just last Friday. In theory, the families could attempt to sue the police department involved.

Do You Have A Wrongful Death Claim?

If you would like to know more and meet with an attorney who can help you pursue your claim, give us a call today, or send us an email. We would be glad to make a time to sit down and speak with you in our office. We provide all potential clients with a free 30 minute consultation. Call today.

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