What Is “Wrongful Death?”

You may have read, heard, or even used the term "wrongful death." But what does it mean? Despite widespread use of the term, we have found in our practice that many people (including some lawyers!) are confused by its actual meaning.

Historically, under our common law system in Texas and the United States, a "wrongful death" claim did not exist. When a person died, any claim they may have had also died with them. Even if that person's death was caused by the negligence of another, none of the surviving family members could bring a claim for their own losses.

Fortunately, our legislators recognized that a wrongful death caused great harm and injury, not only to the individual who had died, but also to his or her immediate family members. In Texas, a wrongful death claim was created by "statute" (a law). The Texas Wrongful Death Statute defines which family members have "standing" (are allowed ) to file a lawsuit for their loss. There are only three categories of family members who can file a wrongful death claim: the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.

Those individuals who are allowed to bring a wrongful death claim are called "wrongful death beneficiaries." In a wrongful death claim, the beneficiaries are claiming money damages for their own losses arising from their family member's death (i.e. "pain and suffering", "mental anguish", and "loss of support").

Different from a "wrongful death" claim, is a "survival" claim. A survival claim may also be brought when a person dies as a result of the negligence of another. However, a survival claim is brought on behalf of the estate of the deceased person for the injuries and pain and suffering sustained by the deceased person—not the surviving family members. It is called a survival claim because the claim "survives" the person after their death. A survival claim may be brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate.

A single lawsuit arising from the same negligent or wrongful act may include both wrongful death and survival claims. Wrongful death and survival claims can be made in many different contexts as well (i.e. auto and trucking accidents, medical malpractice, pharmaceuticals, or medical device cases). If you believe your loved one died as a result of someone else's negligence, please contact the Marynell Maloney Law Firm for a free consultation.