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Can Parents Sue for Wrongful Death?

In many states, such as Texas, state law allows certain surviving family members to file a civil lawsuit when the death of a loved one is caused by another person or entity’s negligent or reckless behavior. In other states, such as Florida, a civil suit must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate, who is often also a close family member. 

In either case, wrongful death cases can be particularly devastating because often the death was unexpected and preventable. Parents who are forced to live with the grief of such loss may choose to file a lawsuit to seek financial compensation for the death of their child — whether that child was an adult or a minor. 

When Should You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death lawsuits are intended to provide some relief to families whose lives are forever changed by this kind of tragedy. In most states, the eligible surviving family members who can file a lawsuit and seek compensation include:

  • Surviving spouses, parents, and children. In Texas, this includes adopted children and adoptive parents.
  • Executor of the estate. In Texas, the executor may file as long as no eligible family member has filed within three months of the death; in Florida, this is the only eligible party allowed to file suit on behalf of the estate and any surviving family members.

If you are a parent who believes your child’s death was caused by the intentional or negligent actions of another person — or even a business — contacting a wrongful death attorney may be in your best interest. 

What Are Common Causes of Wrongful Death?

Some of the more notorious wrongful death cases of the last few decades that resulted in damages awarded to survivors include:

  • A wrongful death suit brought by Meadow Walker against car giant Porsche for the death of her father, actor Paul Walker 
  • A wrongful death suit brought by the parents of Ron Goldman and a survivor’s suit brought by Lou Brown, father and executor of the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson, against O.J. Simpson

While these are exceptional cases involving celebrities, the two cases indicate the wide spectrum of potential scenarios in which a wrongful death suit may be filed. These can include:

  • Automobile accidents. Whether the deceased was a passenger, another driver, a cyclist, or a pedestrian, when a driver is found responsible for the death of another, compensation may be awarded.
  • Medical malpractice. Sometimes, even highly trained health care professionals act negligently, resulting in devastating consequences. 
  • Industrial accidents. Federal, state, and local laws all hold businesses — especially those with high-risk environments — to high standards of safety practices. When those practices are neglected and a death occurs, the company may be accountable.
  • Defective products. From ice cream to children’s toys, product defects can have serious consequences. When the evidence shows that the company either knew about or ignored warnings that something was not right, a civil suit may be possible.
  • Criminal activity. If your child’s death occurred as a result of someone else’s criminal activity — sometimes, even when your child was also involved — you may have grounds to file a civil lawsuit, even if the defendant is not convicted in a criminal court.
  • Commercial trucking accidents. Big rigs are beasts on the road, and drivers and trucking companies that intentionally push themselves or their vehicles to their limits or otherwise behave negligently may be found responsible for a fatal accident.

The burden of proof is different for criminal courts and civil courts. Even if the person you believe is responsible for your child’s death is not guilty of a crime, you may still have recourse with a civil case.

How Do Parents File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for the Death of Their Minor Child?

Unfortunately, sometimes the life that was lost had only just begun. If you prefer not to read some general information specific to filing a wrongful death suit in cases where a minor child is the deceased, just skip to the next section.

Tragically, unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for children, according to the CDC, with over 12,000 children ages 0–19 each year dying as a result of an accident injury. While car accidents remain the primary cause for children over age one, other common fatal accidents involving children include:

  • Drowning
  • Burns
  • Falls
  • Fire
  • Poisoning
  • Suffocation

Sometimes, an accident is just an accident. However, as parents of young children know, the risks that come with the causes listed above can be reduced. And sometimes, that risk mitigation is legally required.

For example, in Texas, all public and residential pools must be surrounded by a fence that is at least four feet high. If a child drowns in a pool without a proper fence structure, that’s likely negligence. Whether or not the person or entity responsible is found criminally responsible, the family of the child will likely want to contact a wrongful death attorney to review the details of the case.

Some people mistakenly believe that wrongful death damages can be awarded only to compensate families for the loss of the deceased’s income. However, in many states — including Texas — parents can also sue for the loss of companionship and for the mental distress experienced from the loss of their child.

If it seems impossible to put a number on this kind of loss, it often is, at least for parents. However, experienced wrongful death attorneys understand the complexities of the law and how to present a case that honors the life of the child and seeks justice for the family’s loss.

How Do Parents File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for the Death of Their Adult Child?

Parents of adult children who are killed as a result of an unforeseen event, such as a car accident, may find themselves wondering why they may need to take on a lawsuit in the midst of their grief. The circumstances surrounding every family situation is different, and one family’s reason for choosing to seek compensation may not be the same as another’s. 

Sometimes, surviving eligible family members choose to work together to seek justice. Sometimes, the relationship between surviving eligible family members may be more tense. No matter the state of their relationship, a wrongful death lawyer can help the parents of the deceased determine the appropriate amount to seek in their lawsuit.

Parents of the deceased may choose to seek compensation that they can put aside to supplement any compensation also awarded to the children of the deceased. Sometimes, the money is donated to a charity or a scholarship fund is established. Other times, the parents of the deceased were relying on their child’s current or future financial support as they aged, and the damages sought are as much for necessity as retribution.

Regardless of their age, this kind of loss is devastating, and we understand that no amount of money can bring back your child. Many find that helping to prevent the same kind of tragedy from affecting another family through seeking punitive damages can be a step toward healing. 

How Are Wrongful Death Damages Determined?

Wrongful death lawsuits may include up to three types of monetary awards: economic, non-economic, and punitive. When parents sue for wrongful death, sometimes the economic damages are less substantial than when other family members sue, such as a surviving spouse who shared household expenses with the deceased. But depending on your unique circumstances, that may not be the case. 

Economic damages compensate surviving family members for their:

  • Loss of household income or inheritance
  • Funerary expenses
  • Medical costs associated with treating the deceased for the incident prior to their passing

Non-economic damages compensate for family members’:

  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of emotional support
  • Loss of companionship

Punitive damages are by nature intended to punish the defendant for their negligent or intentionally harmful actions. This can be particularly impactful when irresponsible companies are at fault. 

FVF’s attorneys will investigate your case thoroughly and use the facts to fight for a just wrongful death recovery award. 

How Can a Wrongful Death Lawyer Help Parents Sue for Wrongful Death in Austin?

FVF accepts only cases we believe we can add substantial value to — enough to pay for the cost of fighting the case and then some. We operate on a contingency fee basis, which means our fee is a percentage of the gross (total) recovery in your case. 

We are transparent about our fee so you always know what to expect; we even anticipate the amount of taxes you will pay on punitive damages. FVF’s free, no-commitment case consultations are intended to help you make decisions about your future at one of your most difficult times. 

For FVF, it’s about people, not cases. Our goal is for you to walk away from your first conversation with us less overwhelmed and more certain about your next steps, even if you do not hire us to represent your case. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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Fogelman & Von Flatern is a personal injury law firm that believes it matters why we practice law: to make sure good people in unfair circumstances who want reasonable options are taken seriously, especially by their attorney. We value transparency, compassion, and justice, and we strive to embody that in our practice. At FVF, you can trust that you've got the best people on your case, for the right reasons.

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