Wrongful death cases involve a lot of emotional trauma, pain, loss, and suffering, and are among the most sensitive lawsuits that a personal injury attorney will ever have to deal with.
Interacting with clients in this difficult time requires a lawyer with an excellent attorney/client relationship as well as the required compassion for such a loss.
However, a wrongful death attorney needs to always remember that their main duty is to make sure that all the surviving family members under their care receive the wrongful death settlements they are owed.
This requires knowing how a wrongful death case is handled in Texas, the possible damages that can be awarded, and how these will be shared among the family members.
Texas law can be very complicated, which is why victims need to approach a good lawyer before launching a wrongful death suit or with questions like How is death compensation calculated?
In that regard, victims looking for the right wrongful death lawyer need look no further than Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys in Dallas, TX.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If the death of a person has been caused by the default, omission, neglect, wrongful, willful, or negligent act of another, a wrongful death claim can be made against the at-fault party.
Most wrongful death cases in Texas are settled for huge amounts due to the pain and suffering each surviving family member feels due to their loved one's death/loss.
However, wrongful death settlements paid to surviving family members present attorneys with fresh challenges when it comes to how the money will be divided.
In Texas, wrongful death damages can be divided among the surviving family members by the jury or by the claimants' attorneys in an out-of-court settlement.
Dealing With a Wrongful Death Claim
The level of experience required when dealing with wrongful death cases is unlike any other personal injury lawsuit an attorney usually deals with. The emotional distress that the claimants are going through needs to be carefully considered.
Also, it is not always the case that a wrongful death lawsuit will involve amicable family members. In some cases, family disputes make the Texas wrongful death case a lot more complicated than it has to be.
Different family members may even bring their own legal counsel to the table, which means a lot more negotiation will still be needed even after the wrongful death lawsuit has been settled.
As such, victims seeking a wrongful death settlement need to have the best legal counsel in Texas.
Wrongful death attorneys are very common in Dallas, but not all of them will have the required experience to be the best personal representative after a family member's death.
Possible Damages in Wrongful Death Claims
Before deciding how wrongful death settlements paid to several surviving family members will be divided, victims need to understand the type of damages they can expect when they file a wrongful death claim.
Usually, the following damages are awarded as compensation to victims whose family member died due to someone else's negligence:
Economic damages are the easiest to determine because they involve quantifiable financial losses and expenses that the attorneys can directly link to the wrongful death of the deceased family member.
These usually include:
Funeral and burial expenses
Loss of household services
Medical expenses incurred before death
Loss of benefits such as retirement funds
Loss of the deceased’s expected future income
A Texas wrongful death lawsuit also awards the victims non-economic damages caused by the negligence of the at-fault party.
The difficult part about dealing with non-economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit is that they are intangible losses that the surviving spouse or other family members have suffered.
These losses usually have no monetary value and include:
Mental anguish and emotional trauma experienced by the surviving loved ones
Loss of companionship from a spouse
Loss of guidance from a parent or sibling
While most wrongful death claims deal with only economic and non-economic damages, a few go the extra mile to address punitive damages.
This is usually the case when wrongful death lawyers can provide evidence of gross negligence or other malicious actions by the at-fault party.
Such wrongful death compensation is meant as a deterrent and a way of punishing the offender rather than simply compensating the victims.
Texas Wrongful Death Damages Cap Laws
There is a cap that is placed on wrongful death benefits under Texas law.
This limit on the amount awarded in a wrongful death settlement means it is very important to hire an attorney who fully understands Texas law, and can fight for victims to win maximum compensation.
Common Caps in Texas Wrongful Death Damages
The following are some of the caps plaintiffs should be aware of:
$250,000 cap on non-economic losses for each claimant in a wrongful death due to medical malpractice lawsuit
$250,000 cap, or twice the amount of non-economic damages (whichever is more) on punitive damages
It is important to note that wrongful death damages cap laws do not apply to defendants who have committed a felony.
Dividing Proceeds From a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas
How are wrongful death proceeds divided in Texas wrongful death claims? This is the question many victims have to ask when they need to divide the settlement among multiple surviving family members.
Division of wrongful death proceeds depends largely on how the specific case settles. A wrongful death lawsuit can be settled out of court or by a jury.
If the case reaches an out-of-court settlement, wrongful death attorneys will divide the money using past legal precedent.
This means considering many factors, such as whether minor children are involved, the level of agreement between the parties involved, and whether the beneficiaries are willing to let the attorneys negotiate with the other claimants' attorneys. They can help with questions like Does Texas limit damages for wrongful death?
However, other cases cannot be settled out of court, in which case the jury typically determines how the wrongful death settlements will be divided.
Each claimant is responsible for validating their claim, after which the jury verdict will be given regarding how to divide the money.
In most cases, the jury awards the greater portion of the compensation to the surviving spouse, children who lose a parent, or parents of the deceased.
On the other hand, middle-aged or elderly claimants who lose a child, or adult children who lose a parent do not normally receive a huge settlement from the jury.
Generally speaking, the more emotionally distressed, vulnerable, and financially dependent a claimant is, the more compensation they are likely to be awarded.
Wrongful Death Claims Involving Minor Children As Beneficiaries
The complications of awarding a huge amount of money to minor children who have lost their parents are usually solved by appointing a personal representative to act as a "guardian ad litem". This person is appointed by the court to make sure the rights of the child are withheld.
In such cases, the court will also launch investigations to ensure that the other claimants do not infringe on the rights of the minor children when it comes to dividing the settlement.
Whenever minor children are involved, the court will recognize their need for protection and will have the final say regarding how the compensation is divided.
When Both Parties Involved Are Agreeable
Handling wrongful death lawsuits is much easier when all the claimants are on the same side and cooperative. In such cases, the process can go much faster by having all the beneficiaries represented by the same attorney.
One of the advantages of such a situation is that all the parties involved in the wrongful death lawsuit can file as one plaintiff, which means the trial can be concluded a lot quicker.
The claimants can also agree early on how the proceeds will be divided. They can sign this in the form of a contract even before the trial begins.
When Adult Beneficiaries Are Adversarial
A wrongful death settlement can become very difficult when the beneficiaries are adversarial.
If the surviving spouses, children, and parents do not see eye-to-eye, dividing financial compensation will become an uphill task for the attorneys of each party.
It is common for each of the parties involved to hire their own attorney because of the level of mistrust between the family members.
However, the situation can still be salvaged if the parties seeking compensation instruct their attorneys to work together.
What Happens When the Responsible Party Has Limited Funds?
If the at-fault party has limited funds or is unable to pay the compensation awarded by the jury, it is more important than ever to consider how the money will be divided. They should not simply focus on how much each family member should receive.
A Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Ease the Process
Before victims seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one, they should make sure they are represented by an attorney who understands the intricacies of Texas state law.
In cases involving a minor child, this is more important than ever. Victims can contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys to schedule a free consultation.
These experienced lawyers will help them file a wrongful death lawsuit and find an amicable way to divide the proceeds of the settlement among all beneficiaries.