Wrongful death suits are civil cases, often brought to court after a criminal trial. They are frequently instigated by a surviving family member seeking a damages award from a person or persons accused in the negligent or willful act of taking someone’s life. Historically, wrongful death suits were designed to support widows and orphans financially and encourage safety among the general populace. Now, wrongful death suits may benefit any of the deceased beneficiaries. Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult challenges that a family must face. Helping you and your family is an area that compassionate Houston wrongful death lawyers Christopher Johns and Keith Lapeze excel in.
Even if a defendant is acquitted of murder, he or she may face a wrongful death suit. A defendant is found guilty in a wrongful death suit if the plaintiff is able to prove the defendant is responsible for death by a “preponderance of evidence” – meaning that guilt can be found on compelling evidence and its probable accuracy. This is different from the evidence needed to prove guilt in criminal proceedings. In a criminal case, the prosecution would need to prove a defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. To prove wrongful death in a civil suit, the defendant must have created and been responsible for a direct line of events that led to death.
Wrongful death suits may be brought to court only if the following components are present:
- A human’s death was caused by negligence or intent to harm.
- Family members are suffering financially due to the death.
- A representative for the deceased person’s estate has been appointed. The representative for the estate is usually who files a suit on behalf of surviving beneficiaries.
Navigating Wrongful Death Proceedings
Medical malpractice, criminal behavior, and vehicular accidents are a few circumstances that may lead to a wrongful death suit. Financial award is normally the compensation for damages in a suit and may only cover the amount surviving family members have lost and will lose due to the death. This may include survival claims to compensate a person for the pain and suffering caused by the death; medical expenses; funeral and burial expenses; lost inheritance; and the deceased’s value of services (generally a lost income).
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim can vary by state. The general rule is that the filing must occur within two years of the action that caused death. In some states, there is a limit on the financial damages that can be recovered in certain suits. Medical malpractice suits are one area of wrongful death law that may see a cap on the financial damages awarded, due to the nature of the work.
Punitive damages may also be awarded if the defendant’s actions are proven to be exceedingly reckless. Punitive damages are a means of punishing the defendant financially for his or her actions. Any financial award arising from these damages is distributed among the deceased’s beneficiaries.
A wrongful death suit from 2013 awarded a young Californian girl more than $150 million in damages after watching her family die in a fiery crash. The driver of the truck and the trucking company were found liable in the death and obligated to pay the damages. Wrongful death cases that leave orphans in their wake are particularly complex and may involve factors such as the future support of a child and finding ways to lessen the emotional burden of losing your family.
Consulting a wrongful death lawyer is the only way to know your state’s variances in law for a wrongful death suit. Lapeze & Johns, PLLC in Houston, Texas, has the experience needed to make a wrongful death case less painful and provide the legal knowledge needed to take a case from start to finish. If you or a loved one are facing or filing a wrongful death suit, speak with our Houston wrongful death attorneys today for a free consultation.