On April 27, a Round Rock police officer who had been struck by an intoxicated motorist in a crash two months prior passed away from complications of those injuries. This has led to new charges for the motorist already in custody on the ground of intoxication manslaughter. As of this writing, the officer’s family has not stated any plan to sue the driver for wrongful death, but if you are so unfortunate as to be in such a situation, you may be able to do so.
Texas law recognizes two types of wrongful death lawsuits. A standard wrongful death suit benefits the deceased person’s immediate family members – usually the parents, children, and spouse, if they exist. Wrongful death is a cause of action based in negligence law, and to establish a case against a specific defendant, you must be able to show that they caused your loved one’s death due to their (or their agent’s) negligence, recklessness or generally wrongful act. Establishing negligence means that you must be able to show the defendant breached the general duty of care owed to you by that person, and that no other cause intervened between their conduct and your harm.
A wrongful death suit also covers only very specific types of damages – for example, mental anguish, lost future wages (that the person would have made), loss of consortium (a spouse’s loss of marital benefits and privileges), and the like. Wrongful death damages are very inchoate – that is, they are very real, but it can be difficult to arrive at specific numbers – while damages of a more concrete type are usually covered by the other type of wrongful death lawsuit.
By comparison, survival actions have the capacity to possibly benefit many more people, albeit indirectly. Survival actions are undertaken by representatives of the deceased’s estate, in order to recover damages that would have been recoverable by the deceased had they survived the accident – for example, damages for medical bills, lost wages, and the like. Survival actions are so named because they are allowed to be mounted so that a cause of action can “survive” the death of the person who was injured.
Indirectly, a survival action may wind up benefiting more members of a deceased person’s family than a wrongful death action would. Since damages in a survival action go to the deceased’s estate, rather than to any individual heir, those damages would become a part of the estate and be divided amongst the person’s heirs, rather than solely into the pocket of the deceased’s parents or spouse, as would be required by law in a wrongful death suit. While the exact specifics of any situation would vary, a survival action’s proceeds would almost certainly be more evenly distributed than those in the alternative situation.
Ask an Experienced Attorney for Help
Losing a loved one is a horrible thing, and no one would blame the officer’s family for debating a wrongful death suit if only to seek help with expenses. Either way, though, every case is different, and if you have experienced the loss of a loved one, consulting an attorney to determine how best to proceed may be a good idea for you. The dedicated New Braunfels wrongful death attorneys at the Bettersworth Law Firm are happy to try and assist you by recommending steps to take at your particular point in time. Contact our offices today to set up an initial appointment.