In late July, three men were killed on a frontage road of I-35 after being hit by a truck while stopping to assist a motorcyclist who had fallen off his vehicle. The motorcyclist and his nephew and one other person died at the scene, while another person was injured. The truck driver stopped to offer help, and while he is not currently facing criminal charges, it is not a leap to assume that a wrongful death civil suit may be filed by the motorcyclist’s family and/or next of kin. Wrongful death is one of the leading causes of action that comes from auto accidents, and Texas has very specific laws surrounding these suits.
Time and Plaintiffs Are Limited
One important thing to remember about wrongful death cases in Texas is that the statute of limitations is quite short. You only have two years from the date of the person’s passing to bring the appropriate wrongful death suit – while this may seem like a long time, it is definitely not, especially when one considers the time that will be spent obtaining records and taking care of the deceased person’s estate. This may seem unreasonable, but after too long, memories begin to fade. Statutes of limitations are meant to curb the tendency of human beings to devolve into he-said, she-said arguments – if a case must be tried when memories are fresh, it will likely be handled more quickly and appropriately.
It is also important to keep in mind that depending on the type of wrongful death action – in the case of the motorcyclist, most likely a survival action, as opposed to a case brought by the estate – the people who may be plaintiffs are specified in the law. Sec. 71.004 states that a survival action is brought for the “exclusive benefit” of the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased. While this may seem somewhat harsh, the rationale behind limiting the law in this manner is that only immediate family (in most cases) will suffer the intangible losses like companionship, future earnings and support, and thus to restrict the plaintiff pool is more equitable.
In survival actions and wrongful death suits, four criteria must be met in order for the plaintiff to prevail: (1) a duty of care must exist between plaintiff (or the deceased, in whose name the suit is brought) and the defendant; (2) that duty must have been breached (3) by the defendant’s conduct, with no supervening cause; and (4) tangible harm must have occurred, in most cases monetarily in the case of the surviving family. If one examines the case of the motorcyclist, a duty of care is established at common law – all motorists have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward other motorists. The other facts that must be proven are somewhat more difficult to establish.
A breach of the duty of care may be proven largely by association; if harm is shown to have come to the plaintiff due to the defendant’s conduct, with no other intervening cause, one may infer a breach of duty. If one examines the motorcyclist’s case, the duty of care exists, and while the motorcyclist had fallen off his bike, there is no indication that those injuries were life-threatening. The lethal harm done to the motorcyclist can be shown to be at least partly the fault of the truck driver – and unless a court holds that the motorcyclist was more than 50 percent at fault for his own injuries, the truck driver will likely be found liable.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys
Losing someone is always hard, and the family of the motorcyclist and his nephew may decide not to bring suit, for a variety of reasons. But if you are ever in the same position, consulting an attorney is always a good idea. The New Braunfels wrongful death lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm are happy to try and help answer your questions during what can be a confusing time. Contact our office today to set up an appointment.