Wrongful Death Attorneys in Amarillo, Texas
If someone is injured because of another party’s negligence or wrongful act, that person can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover for medical expenses, lost wages, and even for pain and suffering. If an injured person later dies or dies immediately, the surviving family members can file what is called a wrongful death lawsuit. Proving either type of lawsuit requires showing that the actions or inactions—generally negligent but sometimes intentional—of another led to the injuries and/or death.
Of course, if you’ve lost a loved one, filing a lawsuit is not going to replace the loss you’ve suffered, but it can bring accountability to the other party. It can also cover medical, funeral, and other expenses, as well as provide compensation for the lost support, financial and otherwise, of the decedent.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or other act in or around Amarillo, Texas, contact the personal injury/wrongful death attorneys at Tormey & McConnell. Combined, we have over 70-plus years of experience in helping others recover from their losses and move forward in life with renewed peace of mind. We also serve clients in the neighboring areas of Canyon, Dumas, Pampa, Hereford, Childress, and Borger.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death in Texas?
The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code states: “A person is liable for damages arising from an injury that causes an individual's death if the injury was caused by the person's or his agent's or servant's wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.”
Probably the first type of wrongful death that comes to mind is a car accident that results in a fatality, either immediately or later as a result of injuries. However, that is not the only cause that can result in a fatality and a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit. Pedestrians and bicyclists are also at risk. Slips and falls on another party’s premises can result in injury and death. Even defective products can cause fatalities. Then, of course, there is also medical malpractice.
Even a deliberate, criminal action such as assault can result not only in a criminal charge, but also in a wrongful death lawsuit if the victim dies as a result. O.J. Simpson was acquitted of his murder charges, but the families of the victims subsequently filed wrongful death lawsuits and prevailed.
The major difference between a criminal charge and a civil tort (or lawsuit) is the burden of proof. A criminal case requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while a civil action requires only a “preponderance of evidence.”
Why File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? And Who Can File One?
A lawsuit can’t bring back a loved one, but it can hold the responsible party accountable and perhaps prevent others from making the same mistake. The lawsuit can also recover for the expenses resulting from the fatality such as medical and funeral costs. It can also compensate for the loss of the decedent’s contributions, whether financial or personal, to the family’s well-being. The losses can also take into account lost future income or inheritance. In some cases, punitive damages are also available.
The standard for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas is basically the same as filing a personal injury lawsuit. In other words, had the decedent lived and been able to file a personal injury lawsuit, then the survivors can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Who can file the action gets a bit complicated. For the first three months following the loved one’s death, family members—spouse, children, parents—can file a lawsuit. After the three months have passed, the decedent’s personal representative (sometimes referred to as the executor) must file. This means the decedent must have left a will naming a personal representative. If not, then the court will have to appoint one, usually from among family members.
Overall, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is two years from the date of the death. If filed later than that, the court will likely dismiss the case. However, if a child’s parents are killed while the child is under 18, the two-year statute of limitations doesn’t begin at the date of death, but rather when the child turns 18.
Standard of Proof
As mentioned earlier, the standard of proof in a wrongful death lawsuit is a preponderance of evidence. This means that the defendant—the allegedly at-fault party—was more likely than not to have caused the fatality. Probably in most wrongful death lawsuits, the case will rest on the negligent action of another, whether a person, a business or corporation, a manufacturer, or even the government.
The elements of a claim based on negligence must show:
DUTY: The defendant owed a duty of care to the decedent. Drivers, by law, have a duty of care to others to drive safely and prevent harm. Manufacturers of products have a duty to make sure their products are safe, and healthcare providers have an obvious duty of care toward patients.
BREACH OF DUTY: The defendant breached that duty in some way, whether intentionally, accidentally, or with carelessness or negligence.
CAUSATION: Their breach of duty caused the decedent’s death.
A wrongful death lawsuit can be complex and challenging. Often, witnesses, including expert witnesses, need to be called, and evidence assembled that can convince a jury. The defendant’s attorney can also argue that it was not their client’s negligence that caused the fatality.
For instance, the driver alleged to have killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk can argue that his or her brakes failed, and it was thus not an act of negligence. A physician can argue that it was not negligence but a pre-existing condition that caused the loss of life.
Wrongful Death Attorneys in Amarillo, Texas
If you’ve lost a loved one in or around Amarillo, Texas, contact us immediately at Tormey & McConnell. We will listen to your story, examine the evidence, and explain your legal options to you, including the possibility of a wrongful death lawsuit. Your first consultation is free, so reach out with all your questions and concerns.