Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
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When you lose a loved one unexpectedly, it can be difficult to mourn while you come to terms with the fact that their death was another person’s fault. Not only were you unprepared to lose someone close to you without warning, but no one is ever prepared to learn someone’s carelessness, recklessness, or negligence caused the death. When you are faced with this situation along with the financial consequences of loss, it is natural to wonder about legal remedies.
In Texas, some individuals have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation for the death of a relative. To learn whether you may have this right, contact the Houston wrongful death attorneys of The Krist Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible at 281-283-8500 .
Who Is Entitled to File a Wrongful Death Suit?
Under the Texas Wrongful Death Statute, spouses, parents, and children are entitled to file wrongful death suits.
Spouses: Texas enables spouses to bring wrongful death lawsuits. This includes individuals who are legally married and individuals who fulfill the requirements of a common law marriage. For a common law marriage to be valid in the eyes of the courts, the two individuals must have agreed to be married, lived together as spouses, and represented that they were married to others.
Issues tend to arise when spouses have separated, were obtaining a divorce, or had finalized a divorce when one of the individuals is killed. Spouses who were separated or going through a divorce can still bring a wrongful death claim. This is allowed even if the surviving individual remarries after his or her spouse’s death.
Spouses who finalized their divorce prior to the individual’s death cannot bring wrongful death actions. Once a divorce is final, the individuals are no longer spouses.
Same-sex couples who are legally married or satisfy a common law marriage are now entitled to bring a wrongful death claim in Texas. Prior to Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex couples in Texas could not be legally married and were considered domestic partners. They could not file a wrongful death claim as a domestic partner. In some circumstances, local courts would agree that same-sex partners were married under common law, but this was not a wide-spread ruling.
Parents: Under the Texas Wrongful Death Act, the term “parents” includes both biological and adoptive parents. It does not include stepparents or foster parents, even if they have had a parental relationship with the child for years or were the child’s only guardian.
Questions regarding parentage can come up if an individual is not listed on the birth certificate. If you are a father who lost a son a daughter but you never formally proved parentage, you should speak with a Houston wrongful death attorney immediately. You may have to prove you are the child’s father before you can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Adoption situations can be difficult. Many parents have physical and legal custody of an adoptive child before the adoption is formally finalized. However, adoptive parents only gain the right to file a wrongful death suit once the adoption is final and complete.
Children: The adult children of a decedent can file a wrongful death suit. This includes biological and fully adopted kids. When there are minor children survivors of the decedent, their right to file a wrongful death claim lasts until they are of legal age to file a lawsuit. This means the statute of limitations does not start running until a minor turns 18. However, in most situations in which there is a surviving minor child, another parent or guardian pursues the wrongful death claim on their behalf.
Who Is Not Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Suit?
There are many circumstances in Texas in which an individual’s death is not litigated because there is not an appropriate survivor. To have the right to file a wrongful death suit, an individual must fit into the category of spouse, parent, or child. Other family members and loved ones who cannot file a wrongful death suit include:
- First or extended cousins
- Aunts and uncles
- Other extended family
- Live-in boyfriends and girlfriends
- Unmarried partners who do not fulfill common law marriage requirements
This can be very hard on families. Many families have unique arrangements in which a child is raised by their grandparents or extended family. Unfortunately, if this situation was never legally recognized through adoption before the child passed, then the surviving family may be unable to hold the at-fault party responsible.
Similar situations occur for long-term romantic partners who had not gotten married yet. An individual may feel the closest to the decedent and the most entitled to recovery, yet be barred from bringing an action.
When the Decedent’s Estate Can File
If none of the decedent’s parents, children, or spouse file a wrongful death action within three months after the death, then the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate can file the action. However, the executor cannot do this if any of the survivors who have the right to file request the executor not to.
Contact Our Houston Wrongful Death Attorneys Today
If you lose your spouse, parent, or child in an accident, call us at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. as soon as possible. Our Houston wrongful death attorneys will immediately begin to investigate the situation to determine if your loved one’s death was the result of someone’s intentional wrongdoing, negligence, recklessness, or omission. If we discover evidence of these issues, we can help you determine if you are able to file a wrongful death suit and if it is the right decision for you and your family.
Call The Krist Law Firm, P.C. today at 281-283-8500 or online to schedule a consultation.