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TX accident lawyerA true tragedy occurred in Austin recently, when a Mercedes-Benz struck a Hummer on its passenger side, injuring two young children. One of the children, a nine-year-old girl, died from her injuries on April 4, while the other underwent potentially life-saving surgery. The Mercedes driver was treated for serious but not life-threatening injuries and was later arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI). In addition to the major criminal charges that the driver may face given the young girl’s passing, it is possible he may be sued in civil court by the family, to try and collect damages for her wrongful death. If you have lost a loved one, especially a minor, to the negligence or recklessness of another person, you have the right to try and hold them accountable, even if they already face criminal charges.

No Replacing A Lost Loved One

If you and your family have lost a loved one due to another person’s negligence, you may be able to recover monetary compensation - not to replace the lost person in your life but to hopefully help your family stay on its financial feet while you adjust to the loss of that person. You may be able to recover for both tangible (also called economic) and intangible (non-economic) damages, including (but not limited to) lost wages, funeral expenses and last medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of inheritance, and several other potential causes of action.

Generally, Texas law holds that a cause of action for wrongful death exists if someone’s passing can be directly linked to the negligence, wrongful act, carelessness, or unskillfulness of another person. For example, if someone is killed in an auto accident because their brakes failed, a mechanic who negligently failed to notice a problem might possibly be liable for that person’s death because they ought to have noticed and fixed the issue. Only a surviving spouse, parents, or children can file a wrongful death claim in Texas.

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TX injury lawyerRecently, law enforcement in San Antonio identified a woman as the victim of a hit-and-run accident on South W.W. White Road. The person who struck the woman may not have been aware of it, as they failed to stop and render aid, but this does open them up to the possibility of both civil and criminal liability if they are located. Failing to stop at the scene of a hit-and-run accident is a crime in Texas, and in addition, the deceased person’s family may seek to bring suit against the driver for wrongful death. If you have lost a loved one in this manner, it is important for you to understand your options, as well as the relationship between civil and criminal law.

Wrongful Death in Texas

Texas’ wrongful death statute is fairly straightforward, stating that a person is liable for damages resulting from an individual’s passing if it resulted from their (or their agent’s) “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” There are only a handful of family members who are permitted by law to bring a wrongful death suit - generally the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. Anyone else is deemed to be too distantly related to have received tangible support from the deceased person in most cases.

In the hit-and-run accident example from South W.W. White Road, the woman’s family would conceivably be able to recover damages such as loss of companionship, mental pain and suffering, and lost wages, if they were able to establish the necessary legal criteria. To establish a case for wrongful death, the plaintiff (the decedent’s family) would have to show that the defendant’s lack of reasonable care was the direct cause of their loved one’s passing and that no other intervening cause played a role. This is difficult, but not impossible to establish if the facts are there.

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TX accident lawyerRecently, a man was killed when he tried to walk across US 281, forcing the highway’s closure between Nakoma Street and Bitters Road. The driver did stop at the scene and try to render aid, but the man was beyond help. If you are so unfortunate as to lose a loved one in that way, you may be able to file a suit for wrongful death against the driver - even if they did stop and attempt to render aid. No amount of money will bring your loved one back, but it can help to pay bills during the time you may need to get back on your feet.

A Duty of Care

Pedestrian accidents happen all too commonly in Texas, with over 8,100 being registered in 2018, yielding 693 fatalities. There are multiple causes for these crashes, including excessive speed, substance abuse, failing to yield properly, and a general lack of pedestrian-safe infrastructure like crosswalks and stoplights. Many of these are on display in the US 281 accident, most notably a lack of any place for a pedestrian to cross the street safely.

That said, a driver on the road has a duty to exercise reasonable care toward others on the road, and a failure to do so can open them up to liability. If they strike another motorist or a pedestrian, they may be sued for negligence or for wrongful death if the injured person does not survive. While there is no indication that the deceased pedestrian’s family intends to take any action against the driver, they could do so if they believed that the driver was negligent in causing the pedestrian’s passing.

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TX injury lawyerRecently, two people were racing their vehicles along Bluff Springs Road in southeast Austin when one struck the side of the other, sending it into a light pole and killing the driver. Initially, the second driver had fled the scene, but he returned to the scene while law enforcement was still present, and was taken into custody. He was charged with two second-degree felonies, and while there has been no indication that the deceased driver’s family seeks to file suit against him, the driver could face a wrongful death suit if they choose to do so. If you lose a loved one due to another person’s negligence, filing a wrongful death suit is usually an option for you and the other survivors.

Wrongful Death vs Homicide

The Texas Wrongful Death Act states that a person is liable for damages that stem from the death of another person if that death was caused by their (or their agent’s) “wrongful act, negligence, carelessness, unskillfulness, or default.” If this turns out to be the case, your family may be able to recover compensation to help offset the loss of your loved one - it is not a replacement or a way to fix what you are going through, of course, but compensation may be able to help keep your bills paid or otherwise help the family stay afloat while you try to recover.

Keep in mind that a civil action for wrongful death is different than a criminal charge of homicide. The former is brought by the survivors of the deceased, while the latter is brought by the state; the former is punished with civil fines and other remedies while the latter carries jail time. However, one person may go through both a civil and a criminal case for the same action - they simply cannot happen concurrently. Most of the time, a criminal case will happen before a civil case, because the burden of proof is higher and if someone incriminates themselves or confesses to something during a criminal trial, that evidence is usually admissible in a civil trial as well.

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TX accident lawyerRecently, a 73-year old woman was struck and killed in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Cedar Park, in what law enforcement called a slow-speed accident. No one else was injured, and no charges appear to be pending against the driver at this time. However, the woman’s family may decide to file wrongful death charges against them, if there is reason to believe that the driver’s actions were negligent.

You Must Act Fast

Not every sudden death in Texas can be classified as wrongful, or even every fatality that happens in an automobile accident. Wrongful death is defined in Texas as a death that occurs due to the “wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, unskillfulness or default” of another person. In other words, a person has to have acted wrongly or with not even the barest level of care toward other people in order to be found liable for wrongful death. This is not an easy standard to meet, but it is very possible to do so.

Very often, it is difficult for a family to be able to process their loss. While this is, of course, understandable, it is important to also be aware that there is a specific window of time in which you are able to bring a wrongful death suit - in Texas, the limit is usually two years after the deceased person’s passing. The law sets the limit at two years because any longer would mean witness memories start to disappear, and evidence may become lost or decayed.

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The sooner you call, the sooner we can build your case, secure evidence and get maximum compensation for your injuries.

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