Your Exceptional Houston Wrongful Death Lawyer
Your Dedicated Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Houston
After the death of a loved one, filing a lawsuit is undoubtedly the last thing on your mind. However, Texas law allows certain family members to receive compensation from the person responsible for the death. This is a wrongful death claim, and the legal team at The Stano Law Firm can help you file yours.
Nothing can bring your loved one back. Nonetheless, it is important to hold the defendant accountable in court for an avoidable death. Please contact our firm to get started. We offer a compassionate, free consultation to discuss what happened to your loved one and whether the death was wrongful.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If someone is hurt in a car accident, they can sue the driver who struck them. Wrongful death lawsuits are similar. When a loved one dies, certain family members can sue for the death. This is a civil lawsuit, meaning that family members can only receive money damages if the defendant is liable. This isn’t a criminal trial where the defendant goes to jail.
As a civil lawsuit, a wrongful death claim has a lower burden of proof. You need to present evidence establishing that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the death. This is called proof by preponderance of the evidence, and it’s lower than the criminal law standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Who Can File the Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In the first three months after the death, the surviving spouse, parents, or children can file the lawsuit in court. After three months, the estate’s personal representative can file.
When is a Death Wrongful under Texas Law?
Not all deaths support a wrongful death lawsuit. In Texas, a wrongful death is one that results from neglect, carelessness, default, unskillfulness, or wrongful act. There are many types of accidents which give way to a wrongful death lawsuit:
A negligent driver strikes and kills your loved one in a car accident
A careless trucker slams into your loved one’s car, leading to death
A pedestrian is struck and killed by a reckless motorist
A victim is mauled to death by a pit bull or other dog
A person slips and falls down a hazardous staircase and suffers fatal injuries
A crime victim is stabbed to death in a robbery or attack
Most of these accidents are caused by the defendant’s negligent conduct. Had the victim lived, he or she could have filed a lawsuit. Because they have died, it’s up to family members (or the estate’s personal representative) to file.
If you have questions about whether you can file, contact The Stano Law Firm. We can review the facts of your case.
Are Wrongful Deaths Also Crimes?
Some are. For example, if your loved one died in a violent attack, then the defendant can face criminal charges for assault or homicide. But wrongful death is a broader category. Someone who was careless might not have acted with criminal negligence, so they don’t face prosecution. Their conduct nonetheless might be serious enough that you can bring a wrongful death claim against them.
Even if the defendant faces criminal charges, you can still bring a civil wrongful death lawsuit. We will discuss how that works.
What Compensation Will We Receive?
It depends on the facts of the case. This is one reason to contact our firm to schedule a consultation. We can offer advice tailored to your unique circumstances.
Compensation comes in the form of money damages for losses the family suffers, things like:
Loss of earning capacity—what your loved one would have earned had he or she lived.
Loss of support, care, maintenance, and advice—your loved one provided certain services to family members, and you can receive compensation for this loss.
Loss of love, comfort, society, and companionship—nothing can make up for these losses, but money is all a court can offer.
Loss of inheritance—you might have inherited assets if your loved one hadn’t died in an accident.
Mental distress and anguish suffered by family members—losing a loved one is traumatizing, and many family members suffer from depression and similar problems.
Some of these losses are easier to calculate than others. For example, lost earning capacity depends on your loved one’s education, experience, job, and salary at the time of the death. These are facts that are easy to establish.
By contrast, something like loss of love or support is more subjective. This is where a skilled attorney can make a difference and increase the amount you receive.
Can We Receive Exemplary Damages?
Possibly. Exemplary damages are also called “punitive damages.” Unlike the damages listed above, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant. This is extra money he or she must pay to the family on top of the compensatory damages for the losses spelled out above.
You can only seek punitive damages if the defendant made a willful act or omission or acted with gross negligence. These are high standards to meet.
For example, a person who carelessly backed out of a parking spot without looking in the rearview mirror has acted with ordinary negligence. You probably can’t sue them for exemplary damages. But someone who killed your loved one after intentionally running a red light or while drunk driving has acted with gross negligence. They probably would have to pay punitive damages.
Our firm will seek punitive damages where appropriate.
How Much Time Do We Have to Sue?
The relevant statute of limitations is found at the Section 16.003 of the Civil Practice & Remedies Code. This law gives you two years to file the lawsuit, and the clock begins on the day of your loved one’s death.
Two years probably sounds like enough time. As we have seen, however, this time passes quickly for those struggling with depression or needing to move out of their homes due to tight finances. There is so much to do after the passing of a child or spouse, and many people lose track of time.
If you miss the deadline, you won’t be able to file the lawsuit in court, which means you won’t receive any compensation.
Can We File a Wrongful Death Claim for a Workplace Accident?
It depends on whether the employer has workers’ compensation insurance. If they do, family members will typically receive a death benefit through workers compensation. The employer is immune from suit. . Only some family members can receive the death benefit, which is usually limited by the amount your loved one made at work.
However, you might bring a lawsuit against another defendant. For example, a defective product used at work could have caused the death, in which case you can sue the manufacturer. And you can sue an employer if they chose not to get workers’ compensation insurance.
How Does a Houston Wrongful Death Lawyer Help?
We can immediately take over a case, allowing you the space and time to grieve properly. With Stano Law by your side, you won’t have to worry about meeting deadlines, filing paperwork, or doing any of the other legal tasks necessary to protect your rights. We’ll handle them all for you. You can focus on your family and healing.
One important responsibility is to find evidence to support the legal claim. We cannot succeed simply by accusing the defendant of acting wrongfully. Instead, we need evidence to help recreate what happened. Some helpful pieces of evidence include:
Eyewitnesses who saw the accident and survived to tell their memories.
Medical records which show the cause of the death.
Surveillance video from a nearby business that captures the accident.
Physical evidence from the scene of the accident. For example, a car accident might have a debris field or skid marks.
Wrongful death cases require extensive preparation. Inexperienced lawyers can overlook evidence right under their nose and make it much harder to get a settlement.
Can You Negotiate a Settlement for My Wrongful Death Case?
Probably. Few wrongful death cases go to trial. Instead, we can usually establish responsibility and negotiate for a favorable settlement. Many defendants are eager to settle, though it takes some work to get them to offer a fair amount.
A lawsuit is unavoidable in a small subset of cases. For example, the defendant might be convinced they aren’t at fault and blame someone else—even the victim. Other defendants argue family members deserve less compensation than we think is reasonable. In some situations, a lawsuit is the only way to get justice for our clients. Helpfully, Stano Law is prepared to litigate a wrongful death case from start to finish and explain to a jury why you deserve to be treated fairly.
Call Our Wrongful Death Attorneys in Houston for More Information
This is a stressful time for you and your family. You probably have many questions about what happened and who is responsible for the death. Please contact the Houston wrongful death lawyers at The Stano Law Firm today for a free case evaluation with an experienced wrongful death attorney. You do not have to go through this process alone when help is nearby.