If an Austin, TX car accident killed your parents, you may have a wrongful death claim against a liable third party. You will have to identify the appropriate defendant and then either win a lawsuit or negotiate a settlement. Most wonderful death cases settle out of court.
Depending on the facts of your case, potential defendants might include:
- The driver of the other vehicle;
- A pedestrian who might have caused the accident;
- A nightclub that sold alcohol to the at-fault driver before the accident;
- The other driver’s employer, if the accident occurred within the defendant’s scope of employment;
- The manufacturer or distributor of a defective auto part;
- The manufacturer of a defective traffic light; or
- The city or state government.
In all likelihood, an insurance company will pay your compensation.
What You Have To Prove To Win
Negligence (carelessness) causes most car accidents; sometimes the culprit is a reckless DUI or intentional “road rage.” Texting while driving is an example of negligence. Assuming your accident was the product of negligence, you must prove four facts to win your claim:
- An injury caused the death of someone.
- Negligence caused the injury. A person is negligent when they fail to act with reasonable care to protect the safety of others.
- The victims would have had the right to file a personal injury lawsuit if they had lived over the accident.
An unborn fetus counts as a person in negligence cases if the negligence prevented the features from being born alive.
Special Case: Causation
You must prove two kinds of causation to win:
- Direct cause: If the defendant had not been negligent, your parents would not have died in the accident.
- Proximate cause: The link between cause and effect was direct enough to render the death of your parents foreseeable to the average person. The defendant need not have actually foreseen the accident. Instead, circumstances must be such that the defendant should have foreseen the likelihood of an accident.
In many cases, proximate cause is more difficult to prove than direct cause. In some cases, the defendant did not cause the accident. Suppose, for example, that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident. Suppose further that the accident occurred when the victim, suffering from dementia, wandered into the road. If the defendant can prove that the accident would have happened and would have killed the victim, even if the defendant had been sober, the defendant might get off with a DUI.
The Statute of Limitations
In most cases, you have two years from the date of each parent’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit for their death. Speak with your lawyer on this matter because exceptions sometimes apply.
Evidence and the Burden of Proof
You must provide evidence, even if only your own testimony, to back up every element of your wrongful death claim. Evidence might include eyewitness testimony, the testimony of a police officer, CCTV footage, photographs of the scene of the accident, and medical records. You might even need to call an expert witness.
In a criminal claim (a vehicular homicide prosecution, for example), the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a lawsuit, you must prove liability by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a much easier standard to meet. Because of the disparity in the burden of proof standards, you can win a lawsuit for wrongful death, even if the defendant wins an acquittal in criminal court.
You can win a lot of money in a wrongful death case, especially if there are two victims. Compensation goes to surviving close relatives. It might include:
- Lost inheritance;
- Lost earnings by the deceased;
- Lost care, maintenance, and services;
- Mental pain and suffering;
- Lost love and companionship; and
- Other possible compensation.
Punitive damages are available in some instances. Texas imposes a cap of $750,000, and punitive damages claims are difficult to prove.
Contact a Lawyer for Legal Help
Wrongful death cases are highly contentious because of the sheer size of the claims involved. Don’t take on a wrongful death case without a skilled wrongful death lawyer to represent you.