Wrongful deaths compound the sorrow of a life lost with the added sting of injustice. The difference between a grandparent dying naturally after a rich, full life, and a loved one dying due to preventable accident or outrageous misconduct is profound. It changes the way surviving family members grieve, and also what needs to be done to lay a loved one to rest.
A wrongful death is a loss of life that should not have occured. Working to locate and prove the persons or parties responsible is the job of a qualified wrongful death attorney.
We at Pierce Skrabanek have an extensive history of recovering all we can for our wrongful death clients. There is no replacing the person you’ve lost, but there are real, tangible benefits to be won in wrongful death cases, including financial restitution and justice for the harm that was done.
The following information is provided to help explain the nature of wrongful death lawsuits, and what a wrongful death settlement could mean for you.
Table of Contents
- What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? Who Can File for Wrongful Death?
- How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
- What Could a Damages Award Mean for You?
- How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
- Client Reviews and Testimonials for Pierce Skrabanek
- Contact Pierce Skrabanek for Wrongful Death Cases
- Wrongful Death FAQ
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? Who Can File for Wrongful Death?
Cornell Law provides the basic definition of a wrongful death action as “a civil action against someone who can be held liable for a death.” This means that any unjust injury which causes someone’s death may be grounds for a wrongful death action. The civil action could happen in lieu of or separate from a criminal trial, depending on the situation.
The definition goes on to specify that, originally, claims for wrongful death had to be brought by the decedent’s survivors (close relatives only, like parents, partners, or children). However, modern law has been modified in some states so that distant relatives (like grandparents) or financial dependents (like unmarried domestic partners) may also sue for wrongful death.
For example, though Pierce Skrabanek handles nationwide cases, we are based out of Texas. In the state of Texas, only immediate surviving family members can file a wrongful death suit, specifically spouses, children, or parents.
- Spouses may file suit even if they were separated at the time of death, or if they have since remarried.
- Biological or adopted children may file a claim (though adopted children may not file for their biological parents).
- For parents, adoptive or biological parents have the right to file wrongful death lawsuits.
Those who do not have the right to file wrongful death claims in Texas include grandparents, siblings, cousins, or other relatives, as well as live-in partners who are not bound by a formal or common-law marriage.
If you have questions regarding who has standing in your state to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of your deceased loved one, call (832) 690-7000 to speak with the wrongful death lawyers at Pierce Skrabanek. Do not hesitate, as there may be a statute of limitations (filing deadline) that applies to your circumstances, and your window of opportunity for justice may be closing.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
Our clients often report feeling relieved once they’ve hired legal counsel. This is because the Pierce Skrabanek team immediately takes over the work to prove a case like wrongful death, removing that burden from your shoulders.
Here are the basics of how your attorneys may prove wrongful death cases:
- Establish duty of care: Establishing a duty of care may be showing that a surgeon has a responsibility to do no harm to patients. That is often an easier standard to prove, as medical professionals swear an oath regarding their responsibilities. Harder duties of care to prove may involve the duty a retail shop owes to customers and employees, or the duty of a person to their neighbor.
- Show a breach of duty: Examples of breach of duty stem from what standard of care was established above. A surgeon who operates on the wrong body may be guilty of medical malpractice. Another is a retail store that allows customers to walk over wet floors without warning, leading to a slip-and-fall injury. Personal duties of care may involve making sure a tree in one yard doesn’t drop a branch into a neighboring yard where children play and could be injured.
- Connect causation: Once it’s established that someone knew to do better, but failed, the next step is to show that failure or “breach of duty” led directly to someone’s injury. In personal injury cases, this could involve a driver who rear-ended someone, causing whiplash. In wrongful death cases, it’s a far more grievous injury.
- Account for injury damages: The injury in wrongful death cases is usually a fatal one, though there are instances where one negligent injury is compounded by malpractice treatment at a hospital. Legally, these distinctions matter for assigning fault and deciding who owes support for the resulting losses. Those losses must then be proven in terms of “calculable damages” like lost income after the death of a breadwinner, as well as damages that are harder to quantify like pain, grief, and emotional anguish.
The above points are also known as the four elements of negligence, and are required to prove in cases of personal injury and wrongful death before damages awards are agreed upon or decided by a judge. This is why you hire a wrongful death attorney, because while these are the concerns of the legal system, your time is better spent elsewhere. Specifically, your personal priorities likely involve processing your grief and rebuilding your life after a loss, rather than trying to deal with legal matters on your own.
For the support needed to recover, you may require a legal settlement.
The reason you need a wrongful death attorney is because the concerns of the legal system are for your lawyer to worry about—your time is better spent processing your grief and rebuilding your life after a loss.
What Could a Damages Award Mean for You?
Once a wrongful death is proven, the next step is agreeing upon the amount of damages. To be clear, however: there is no monetary amount that makes up for the loss of a human life. So what does a wrongful death settlement pay for?
Here are some examples that may apply in wrongful death cases:
Calculable Economic Damages
This category of damages is often clear, and may be presented by your lawyer as a series of receipts.
Economic damages may include:
- Medical expenses like an ambulance response and emergency room services
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of wages and financial benefits, including future earnings, pensions, and lost health insurance (an especially vital consideration if the deceased person was the main or sole breadwinner for a household)
The non-economic and emotional losses are the ones that really matter in cases of wrongful death. And yet, these damages are often harder to prove. This is why experienced wrongful death attorneys like those at Pierce Skrabanek are essential — to help translate irreplaceable losses into terms that are recognized by the law.
Non-economic damages may include:
- A loss of guidance, care, and nurturing from a parent or partner
- Loss of the promise and companionship of a child
- The loss of consortium, or affections unique to marriage
- The pain, anguish, and suffering that accompanies grief
Other Damages and Fees
Certain wrongful death scenarios involve criminal prosecution, as in the case of a murder. However, even when wrongdoing isn’t criminal, a judge may assign extra penalties to teach a lesson.
Other damages and fees that may result from a wrongful death verdict are:
- “Punitive” damages meant to punish the wrongdoer, which may then be awarded to you (for example, a reckless driver who caused a fatal crash, a negligent workplace that knew of unsafe conditions but did nothing to protect employees, or an incompetant hospital worker that failed to properly care for their patient)
- Charging your legal fees to the other party, which may be done if they refused to agree to a fair settlement, and instead insisted on a full lawsuit
There are many facets involved in settling a wrongful death claim, but the work of a practiced attorney can make the process as easy as possible for you during your time of mourning.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
Once the amount of damages has been finalized, there are two main ways wrongful death settlements are paid out:
- Lump sum: A lump sum is a one-time payment that can quickly help families and survivors pay down medical debt, close out an estate, and begin again after the loss of their loved one. This is the more common result of successful wrongful death cases.
- Structured settlement: This payment method schedules regular amounts over months or years, a practice that may help replace lost wages until a future date.
Once these decisions are made, they are hard to modify. Choosing the method of payout is an important decision, and often requires the guidance of an attorney to help you plan for your future with confidence and clarity. A professional wrongful death lawyer will make sure that you understand the terms you’re agreeing to before you accept a settlement offer.
Client Reviews and Testimonials for Pierce Skrabanek
Pierce Skrabanek has a long history of successful settlements and verdicts. Hear some of our previous clients tell of their experience with the firm:
My experience with Mr. Skrabanek was honestly far better than all expectations that we had. He took care of us like we were family, making sure me and my wife always felt like a priority, and walked us through all of the concerns that we had. If you are looking for a professional who truly cares for his clients you can stop the search. You won’t be disappointed.
– Daryl M.
My attorney, Michael Pierce, did an amazing job with my case. He’s a straight shooter and has a vast knowledge of the law combined with an extensive amount of experience, making him a fantastic attorney. I fully recommend this firm. Thank you Pierce Skrabenek!
– Victoria S.
My experience with Paul Skrabanek and his assistance was wonderful. They took care of me very well and I would recommend them to anyone that needs a good lawyer. The case took almost 4 years but it was a good experience for me to meet Paul and his staff. Thank you so much for your service, I really did appreciate it.
– Harriet H.
Contact Pierce Skrabanek for Wrongful Death Cases
Pierce Skrabanek is a sincere, down-to-earth law firm based out of Texas, with nationwide reach. We fight as aggressively for our clients as we would for our own family members, and in cases of wrongful death, we make sure everything is done to get as much justice as possible.
If you think you need a wrongful death attorney, call us today at (832) 690-7000, or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation. Let us advocate fiercely for you and your family, and contribute what we can via the law to help you find peace.
Wrongful Death FAQ
Short answer: you hire a capable attorney like those at Pierce Skrabanek to gather proof for the four elements of negligence:
- A duty of care: A doctor owes care to their patients, retail stores owe safety measures to their customers and employees, and each of us owes a duty of responsibility to each other to avoid causing harm.
- Breach of that duty: Failure to follow safety rules or to act responsibly may be brought as proof that a duty of care was breached.
- Causation: Next, a lawyer must prove that the breach or failure in step #2 directly caused injury to their client.
- Injury damages: In cases of wrongful death, the injury leads to a person’s death. A wrongful death attorney must then prove what that injury has cost the surviving loved ones in economic terms, in time lost, and in pain and suffering.
There are two main ways that wrongful death settlements may be paid out:
- Lump sum: A one-time and often large amount, useful for repaying medical debts, settling an estate, and rebuilding one’s life after a profound loss.
- Structured settlement: This refers to regular and sometimes long-term payments that could help replace a lost income stream, and provide for the future.