When someone dies in a vehicle or workplace accident, there is likely to be more than one surviving family member — and more than one person entitled to a wrongful death settlement.
Texas permits only certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the state treats each person as a separate claimant in the case. If multiple people bring a claim, each person will be allocated a certain percentage of the agreed-upon settlement based on their relationship to the deceased and their specific damages.
While Texas makes it clear who can file a suit, trying to determine how a settlement is divided may require the help of a wrongful death lawyer near you. They can look at decisions in past wrongful death lawsuit cases to give you an idea of how your specific settlement may be divided based on the parties involved.
Who Is Eligible for a Wrongful Death Settlement in Texas?
In Texas, the following parties are permitted to bring a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Surviving spouse
- Children, including adopted children and adult children
- Parents of the deceased
These parties can each file a claim individually or together. Relatives such as siblings, aunts or uncles, and grandchildren are not permitted to file a claim under state law.
If any of the parties above do not file a wrongful death lawsuit within three months of the date of death, the executor of the deceased’s estate or their personal representative is then allowed to file a claim.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Divided?
With so many potential parties involved, dividing the final settlement can be complicated. There is no set rule for how to divide a wrongful death settlement among family members. The specifics of distribution in your case will depend on the relationship of the family members to the victim. In the best case scenario, the family members themselves agree upon fair compensation for each person.
If a case goes to trial, however, the jury decides how the settlement is divided. If the case settles without a trial, the following factors may be taken into consideration based on past wrongful death lawsuit cases:
- If minor children are involved in the case
- If all beneficiaries are adults
- If the parties can agree to a fair division of the settlement
- If any parties are likely to contest the settlement
- The mental capacity of all involved adults
Once those and other factors are considered, the settlement gets distributed as equitably as possible. In general, family members who were more financially dependent on the deceased or have a greater claim to emotional distress are likely to receive more compensation.
For example, if both the deceased’s minor children and parents bring a lawsuit, it is more likely that the children will obtain a larger share than the parents, since the children presumably lose more financially. On the other hand, a surviving spouse will probably receive more in a wrongful death settlement than the minor children, especially if that spouse was financially dependent on the deceased. Parents who lose a minor child are likely to be awarded more compensation (mostly due to pain and suffering) than older parents who lose an adult child.
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Parties in a wrongful death lawsuit can seek both economic and non-economic damages. Texas also allows punitive damages for exceedingly negligent behavior.
Economic damages include lost income, lost inheritance, medical expenses that the deceased incurred before death, and funeral and burial expenses. Non-economic damages include things that do not have a monetary value associated with them, such as loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and loss of support.
For family members to make a claim to any of these damages, they will have to show proof that they are entitled to compensation. For example, for economic damages, they can produce receipts and medical records. Non-economic damages are harder to quantify and are typically based on statements by the affected party and medical or mental health experts.
When Can a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Filed?
Anyone who can validly bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas must do so within two years of the date of death under the state’s statute of limitations. To ensure your claim gets filed within the required time limit, it’s helpful to work with a wrongful death lawyer.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help
Losing a family member in an accident can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. When the accident was caused by someone else’s negligence or reckless behavior, you may have a right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If you are one of the parties who can legally bring such a claim in Texas, you should be compensated fairly for your loss.
If you need a wrongful death attorney in Austin, FVF is here to help. Our compassionate team can help manage your case from start to finish so you can take the time you need to grieve. If multiple family members are involved in your claim, we can help to determine a settlement that awards you your fair share. Whether that’s working with attorneys for your family members or negotiating with the at-fault party, we will always keep your best interests in mind.
We offer free consultations to discuss your options in your wrongful death lawsuit case. We never pressure you to hire us; we want to educate you on your options so that you can make the best decisions for you and your family. Contact us today to speak with a wrongful death attorney in Austin.