Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas

Some car accidents are minor. Vehicle damage is minimal and everyone walks away with a few scrapes and bruises. Unfortunately, catastrophic vehicle accidents occur daily on Texas roadways and can result in a fatality.

The reality of car accident fatalities in Texas is sobering, especially for the victim’s loved ones. Not only are they dealing with their loss, but they also have sudden, unexpected expenses. If someone’s negligent actions are the cause of the car accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and Who Can File a Claim

A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim you file against an individual or entity whose negligent actions resulted in a fatality—in this case, the death of your loved one. Yes, you must prove negligence or malicious intent in a wrongful death lawsuit. In other words, you can’t file a claim just because your loved one passed away from natural causes in someone else’s care.

An example of negligence in a wrongful death claim involving a car accident is if the at-fault driver runs a red light and T-bones another vehicle resulting in a fatality. Since the at-fault driver ran the red light, their actions are considered negligent.

Malicious intent applies in a wrongful death lawsuit if the other driver purposefully ran the red light with the intent of hitting the other vehicle. You must prove either negligence or malicious intent to move forward with a wrongful death lawsuit.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas

Texas law is fairly specific when it comes to who can file a wrongful death claim. The idea is to limit the number of lawsuits filed in civil court.

All wrongful death lawsuits are considered civil matters. However, a prosecuting attorney can also decide to file criminal charges. The criminal case is separate from a wrongful death lawsuit. However, your attorney or the prosecutor may be able to use evidence introduced in either the civil or criminal case.

A criminal charge is typically only filed if the fatality is caused by malicious intent or gross negligence. An example of gross negligence is if the at-fault driver was intoxicated when they ran the red light. Road rage (aggressive driving) may also be considered gross negligence or malicious intent.

Remember, every vehicle accident resulting in a fatality is different and this often determines if criminal charges are filed. So, who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas? According to state law, only the deceased heirs are eligible to file a claim. This typically includes:

  • The surviving spouse
  • A surviving child and the law allows both adult and minor children to file a claim. If the child is a minor, a guardian acts as their representative in court
  • Surviving parents
  • Either a legally adopted child or their adoptive parents. Biological parents are typically barred from filing a wrongful death lawsuit if the child is legally adopted. The court considers the biological parent’s rights terminated once the adoption is final
  • A legal representative of the deceased’s estate. The representative must be recognized by the court to file a wrongful death claim
  • If none of the above-listed parties are present and the deceased is survived by siblings. Their siblings may be able to file a claim as heirs of the deceased estate.

What about the accident victim’s close friends? Can they file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver? In most cases, the answer is no. The only exception is if the close friend is either a named heir or the legal representative of the deceased’s estate.

Pay Attention to the Statute of Limitations

Losing a loved one is stressful and grief can make it difficult to focus on anything other than getting through the day. You also have a lot on your plate, from notifying other loved ones to planning a funeral. You may not even be thinking about filing a wrongful death lawsuit, but you don’t want to put it off for too long.

Texas’s statute of limitations only gives you two years from the date of the accident to file a wrongful death claim. There really aren’t any exceptions, even if the surviving children are minors. Remember, a legal guardian can file the claim at the request of the minor.

Potential Compensatory Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In a wrongful death lawsuit, you can claim both economic and non-economic damages. You may also be able to request punitive damages. However, punitive damages aren’t always awarded in wrongful death lawsuits.

You must prove the defendant’s actions are especially egregious, meaning that the at-fault driver’s actions are considered to be grossly negligent. Unfortunately, not even all DUI accidents resulting in a fatality qualify for punitive damages.

Punitive damages are meant to punish the at-fault driver and discourage others from exhibiting the same behavior. With that being said, almost all wrongful death lawsuits qualify for economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are tangible. You have bills and receipts showing the damage amounts. In a wrongful death lawsuit, economic damages typically include funeral costs, therapy for the deceased’s survivors, and any medical costs the victim may have stemming from the accident.

Non-Economic Damages

Calculating non-economic damages is a little more complicated since they’re intangible, which means you can’t produce a bill or receipt showing the amount of your expenses.


Some examples of non-economic damages include mental anguish, pain, and suffering you’re experiencing from the loss of your loved one.

Additional Damages

Your wrongful death claim may also include the deceased lost earning potential and even a loss of mental support normally provided by the victim. Surviving spouses may also be able to claim a loss of love and companionship.

However, before you start listing your damages, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney.

Don’t Go Through a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Alone

After the sudden loss of a loved one in a car accident, it’s understandable if you find it difficult to focus or think clearly. Before you embark on the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced accident attorney.

Allowing an attorney to manage the legal aspects of your case can provide you with the space to focus on grieving and healing. Their support can not only ensure that your case is handled properly but having them in your corner also helps protect your rights during such a challenging time in your life.