In September 2016, the family of Sandra Bland settled a wrongful death lawsuit involving the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Waller County jail. Bland, an Illinois resident who came to Texas for a job interview, died in the jail – the medical examiner determined the cause of death as suicide by asphyxiation. As part of the $1.9 million settlement, the jail must have emergency nurses on staff at all times, perform timely and accurate cell checks with automated electronic sensors, and seek state funding for staff training and inmate screening.
Bland was just 28 years old, and while many details of the settlement were not disclosed, one can assume that it accounted for the wages she could have earned in her lifetime. Texas does allow families to pursue compensation for future loss of earnings as part of a wrongful death case. But it also limits which family members can pursue a claim of wrongful death.
Relatives Who Can File a Case
In Texas, only the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased may pursue a claim of wrongful death. If the survivors don’t file a case within three calendar months of the death, the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death claim, so long as the family does not object.
Same-sex spouses may also pursue wrongful death claims if they have a legal marriage certificate. Although Texas state law does not recognize same-sex marriage as legal, that law was superseded by a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage a right in all states.
Some states allow other family members to pursue a wrongful death claim or receive a portion of damages. New York law gives the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased priority in wrongful death cases, but if the deceased has no immediate survivors, their brothers and sisters may pursue a wrongful death claim. The state also sets aside a share of damages awarded in a case for each child of the closest generation. So, for example, if the deceased was a grandparent, but had no surviving children, her grandchildren would get equal shares of the damages.
When families have a loved one who dies in a different state, they should consult an attorney about where to file their wrongful death case, because one state’s laws may be more advantageous in terms of who can file or the amount of damages they can receive.
Families in other states may file a wrongful death claim in Texas so long as they meet all the requirements, file within the three-month window, and filing the claim is not forbidden by the laws in their state. The same applies to families living in other countries, but they must live in a country that has equal treaty rights with the U.S.
Types of Damages
In addition to future loss of earnings, families may pursue the following types of compensatory damages:
- Economic – Compensation for actual economic losses, such as the cost of hospitalization or burial
- Noneconomic – Damages for subjective conditions, such as pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and psychological trauma
A third type of damages – exemplary – is not considered compensatory. It’s awarded only in cases that show the defendant’s willful act of omission or gross negligence caused the death. This compensation, if awarded, is in addition to other damages, and the amount of exemplary damages may not exceed whichever of the following is the greatest:
- Two times the amount of the total economic damages
- An amount equal to any noneconomic damages, but not more than $750,000
If you have questions about how to pursue a wrongful death case, the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm can help. As personal injury attorneys with years of experience, we help the people of Texas put their lives back on track. We offer small law firm attention with big law firm results. Call today at 1-855-414-1012 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.