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Do I have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

The urge to hold someone responsible for your loved one's untimely death can be quite powerful, especially when no criminal charges are forthcoming after the accident that claimed his or her life. While not every case will qualify, some victims' survivors are able to seek civil justice through the filing of wrongful death actions with the Texas courts.

The burden of proof is lower in civil courts than it is in criminal courts. Perhaps the most famous example of a successful wrongful death case in recent years was the case involving O.J. Simpson, the athlete and actor who beat a murder rap for the deaths of his wife and her friend. Simpson's jury returned a verdict of guilty in his civil case, finding him liable for the double fatality because his responsibility was established by a preponderance of evidence.

A wrongful death action does not have to involve any type of crime, however. It can stem from an auto accident, medical malpractice, on-the-job occupational fatality or some kind of misadventure involving negligence by another person or entity.

Wrongful death lawsuits can only be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. Four basic elements have to be present in order to file the suit:

-- A human being must have died;

-- The decedent is survived by family members who suffer financial losses due to their loved one's death;

-- The decedent died as a result of the negligence of someone else, or as a result of an intent to cause the person harm;

-- A personal representative has been appointed over the person's estate.

Financial loss is the primary measure of damages for wrongful death actions. Courts interpret financial losses to include loss of services, support, prospect of inheritance, funeral expenses and medical costs associated with the fatal injury or illness.

Damage awards also include interest that has accrued from the death of the decedent. As these cases can be complex and sometimes take awhile to settle or go to court, that can increase an eventual settlement or judgment substantially.

If you feel that you may have a valid case of wrongful death, it's a good idea to meet with a Texas attorney to discuss the circumstances surrounding your loved one's death.

Source: FindLaw, "Wrongful Death Overview," accessed Jan. 13, 2017

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