How to File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

February 1, 2024 | By Francis Firm Injury Attorneys
How to File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Car Accident

Car accidents can be traumatic and life-changing events. When a car accident results in the tragic loss of a loved one, the emotional toll can be overwhelming. In addition to the emotional anguish, the financial burden of medical bills, funeral expenses, and lost income can add to the family's distress.

If you've lost a family member due to someone else's negligence on the road in Texas, you may be eligible to recover compensation through a wrongful death claim. Filing a claim may not bring back your loved one, but it can help you and your family find some measure of justice and financial stability. It can hold the responsible party accountable for their actions and send a message of deterrence to prevent similar tragedies. Consult a Dallas wrongful death lawyer immediately for legal help.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

Before diving into the process of filing a wrongful death claim, it's important to understand what constitutes a wrongful death claim in Texas. Wrongful death occurs when someone's negligence or intentional actions result in the death of another person. In the context of car accidents, wrongful death claims typically arise when a negligent driver causes a fatal collision.

To win a wrongful death claim, your attorney will need to prove that:

  • The other party was negligent: This means they breached their duty of care to drive safely and caused the accident.
  • The accident caused your loved one's death: Medical records and expert testimony will be needed to establish this link.
  • You suffered damages as a result of the death: Financial records and documentation of emotional distress can support this claim.

If you have grounds to bring a wrongful death claim, here are some actions to consider:

1. Identify Eligibility

In Texas, not everyone can file a wrongful death claim. The state has specific rules governing who is eligible to pursue such a claim. Eligible parties typically include:

  • Spouse
  • Children (both biological and adopted)
  • Parents of the deceased

If the family doesn’t file a claim within three months of their loved one’s death, then the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may file a wrongful death claim.

2. Be Aware of the Timeline

Each state has a deadline, or statute of limitations, for filing a wrongful death claim in civil court. In Texas, you generally have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death claim. Failing to meet this deadline can result in the forfeiture of your right to seek compensation.

3. Gather Evidence

To build a strong wrongful death case, you need to gather evidence that demonstrates the negligent actions of the other driver and the resulting damages. Here are some key pieces of evidence to collect:

  • Police Reports: Obtain a copy of the police report from the accident scene. This report often includes vital information about the crash, witness statements, and the officer's assessment of who was at fault.
  • Medical Records: Collect medical records related to the deceased person's injuries and treatment, as well as records of any medical expenses incurred.
  • Eyewitness Statements: If there were witnesses to the accident, gather their contact information and statements about what they saw.
  • Photographs and Videos: If possible, take photographs or videos of the accident scene, vehicle damage, and any visible injuries.
  • Communication Records: Preserve any correspondence or communication with insurance companies, law enforcement, or medical professionals related to the accident.

4. Consult an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

Navigating the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim in Texas can be complex and overwhelming, especially during a time of grief. Seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

A knowledgeable wrongful death attorney can help you:

  • Determine if you have a valid claim
  • Identify liable parties and insurance coverage
  • Calculate the full extent of your damages
  • Negotiate with insurance companies
  • File the necessary legal documents
  • Build a compelling case
  • Represent you in court if a settlement cannot be reached

When selecting an attorney, look for one with experience in handling wrongful death claims in Texas. They will have a deeper understanding of local laws and regulations that can affect your case.

5. Understanding Your Damages

Calculating the damages in a wrongful death claim can be challenging. This is one area where having an experienced lawyer is priceless. To determine a value for your claim, your lawyer will account for both economic and non-economic damages you and your family have suffered due to your loved one’s death.

Economic damages are tangible losses with a clear monetary value, such as medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are intangible losses, such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship.

Economic damages that may be considered include:

  • Medical expenses related to the deceased's final injury or illness
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The value of the decedent’s lost services to the family, such as housekeeping, cooking, and childcare
  • Loss of financial support and benefits

Non-economic damages that may be considered include:

  • Loss of companionship, love, and guidance
  • Pain and suffering experienced by the surviving family members

6. Negotiate with Insurance Companies

In most cases, your attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Insurance companies are known for trying to settle for the lowest possible amount, so it's essential to have an experienced attorney on your side who can advocate for your best interests.

During negotiations, your attorney will present the evidence and damages to the insurance company and work to reach a fair settlement that covers your losses. If the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement, your attorney will advise you on the next steps, which may include filing a lawsuit.

7. Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If negotiations with the insurance company are unsuccessful, your attorney may recommend filing a wrongful death lawsuit. This involves initiating legal proceedings against the at-fault driver or any other responsible parties.

The lawsuit will typically progress through the following stages:

  • Filing the Complaint: Your attorney will draft and file a complaint outlining your claims against the defendant.
  • Discovery: Both parties exchange information and evidence through the discovery process. This may include depositions, requests for documents, and interrogatories.
  • Pretrial Motions: Your attorney may file motions to address legal issues or request summary judgment in your favor.
  • Trial: If a settlement is not reached, your case will proceed to trial. A judge or jury will hear the evidence and make a determination regarding liability and damages.
  • Appeals: If either party is dissatisfied with the trial outcome, they may choose to appeal the decision.

8. Prepare for Possible Outcomes

It's important to understand that the outcome of a wrongful death claim can vary. While your attorney will work diligently to secure the best possible outcome, there are several potential scenarios:

  • Settlement: Most cases are resolved through settlements, where both parties agree on a compensation amount. This can be a quicker and less stressful resolution.
  • Judgment at Trial: If your case goes to trial and the judge or jury rules in your favor, you will receive a judgment awarding you damages.
  • Appeal: The defendant may choose to appeal the judgment if they disagree with the trial outcome. This can prolong the legal process.
  • No Recovery: In some cases, despite the evidence and effort, there may be no recovery. Your attorney will explain your options in such instances.

9. Seek Emotional Support

Filing a wrongful death claim can be emotionally taxing, as it requires reliving the traumatic event that caused your loved one's death. It's crucial to seek emotional support during this challenging time. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups that can provide understanding and comfort.

Additionally, consider seeking counseling or therapy to help you and your family cope with grief and loss. Emotional well-being is essential throughout the legal process, as it can impact your ability to make sound decisions and communicate effectively with your attorney.

Get Help Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

Filing a wrongful death claim after a car accident is a complex and emotionally charged process. It requires careful consideration of legal requirements, gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and, if necessary, pursuing a lawsuit. While no amount of compensation can replace the loss of a loved one, seeking justice and financial support can help ease the financial burden and provide closure.

Remember that every case is unique, and the outcome may vary. Consulting an experienced attorney who handles in wrongful death claims, is the first step toward pursuing the justice and compensation your family deserves during this challenging time. Contact a personal injury attorney at the Francis Firm today for a free consultation. With the right legal guidance, you can navigate the process and work toward a resolution that provides some measure of relief.