Wrongful Death Claim in Texas vs. Criminal Charges: Understanding Legal Options After a Tragic Loss

The sudden loss of a loved one is devastating. When that loss is caused by another’s negligence or wrongdoing, the emotional and financial burden on surviving family members can be overwhelming. In the midst of grief, understanding the legal avenues available to seek justice and compensation can be confusing. This is particularly true when wrongful death claims and criminal charges appear intertwined.

The compassionate wrongful death attorneys at the Law Offices of Tim O’Hare understand the profound grief and loss families experience after such a tragedy. Our experts have written this article to help guide you through the complexities of these legal options, specifically focusing on the differences between wrongful death claims and criminal charges. We’ll provide the knowledge you need to make informed decisions and empower you to take the necessary steps forward to pursue justice for your loss.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?

According to Texas wrongful death laws, a wrongful death claim in Texas is a civil lawsuit filed against the party whose negligence, carelessness, or intentional act caused the death of another person. Unlike a criminal case in Texas, a wrongful death claim is not about punishing the defendant, but rather about obtaining compensation for the financial and emotional losses suffered by the deceased’s family. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Texas?

Spouses, children, parents, and the estate of the deceased are typically eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Depending on the specific circumstances, other individuals, such as siblings or dependents, may also be eligible. 

What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death lawsuits aim to financially compensate surviving family members for the losses they experience due to the death of a loved one. These losses can be divided into two main categories: economic damages and non-economic damages. Read on to learn more about what these entail.

Economic Damages: These are tangible losses with a clear dollar value. They may include:

—Medical expenses and funeral costs: This covers any medical bills incurred before the death due to the incident, as well as funeral and burial expenses.

—Lost income and future earning potential of the deceased: This compensates the family for the financial support the deceased would have provided if they had lived. This may include future wages, benefits, and potential career advancements.

Non-Economic Damages: These are intangible losses that are more subjective and harder to assign a dollar amount to. They may include:

—Loss of companionship, guidance, or care: This covers the loss of the deceased’s emotional support, love, and companionship. It can also include the loss of guidance or mentorship, especially for children who have lost a parent.

—Mental anguish and emotional distress: This compensates for the emotional pain and suffering experienced by surviving family members due to the death.

—Loss of household services provided by the deceased: This covers the value of the chores, childcare, or other services the deceased provided for the family that will now need to be replaced.

The specific types of damages recoverable and the amount awarded will vary depending on the individual circumstances of the case, such as the age and earning potential of the deceased, the severity of the emotional impact on the family, and the laws of your state.

What are Criminal Charges in Texas?

Criminal charges are brought by the state against the individual accused of violating the law, resulting in the death of another person. The purpose of criminal charges is to punish the individual (if convicted) and deter future crimes. These charges, depending on the specific facts of the case in Texas, might include:

Manslaughter: Unintentional killing arising from recklessness or negligence per Texas Penal Code § 19.02: Manslaughter can be further classified depending on the circumstances, such as intoxication manslaughter or manslaughter caused by reckless use of a firearm.

Vehicular homicide: Death resulting from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs per Texas Penal Code § 49.04: This is a specific type of manslaughter in Texas that applies to situations where intoxication is a contributing factor in the death.

Murder: Intentional killing of another person per Texas Penal Code § 19.02: Murder has different classifications (capital murder and murder) depending on the intent and premeditation involved.

It’s important to note that the burden of proof in criminal cases is much higher than in wrongful death lawsuits. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt while in a civil case, the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s culpability and the corresponding damages by a preponderance of the evidence. 

Key Differences Between Wrongful Death Claims and Criminal Charges

Understanding the fundamental differences between these two legal processes is key to effectively pursuing justice for your loss.

Here are some points to consider:
Burden of Proof:
Civil cases, like wrongful death claims, require a lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, meaning the plaintiff must convince the court that it is more likely than not (over 50%) that the defendant caused the death. In contrast, criminal cases require the prosecution to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard.

Purpose: The primary purpose of a wrongful death claim is to obtain financial compensation for the surviving family. Criminal charges, on the other hand, aim to punish the defendant for violating the law and protect society.

Who’s Involved: Family members initiate and pursue wrongful death claims. The state prosecutes criminal charges on behalf of the public.

Independence: The outcome of a criminal trial does not necessarily determine the outcome of a wrongful death claim, and vice versa. Each case proceeds independently with its burden of proof and objectives.

Differences Between Criminal Charges and Wrongful Death Claims

Criminal ChargesWrongful Death Claims
Prosecuted by the stateFiled by the surviving family members
Focuses on punishmentSeeks compensation for losses
Higher burden of proof: beyond a reasonable doubtLower burden of proof: preponderance of the evidence
Criminal penalties, such as imprisonmentFinancial compensation for losses

By understanding the differences between criminal charges and wrongful death claims, families can pursue justice and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. Consulting with a personal injury lawyer or wrongful death lawyer experienced in handling wrongful death cases in Texas is important to help navigate the legal process and ensure the best possible outcome. 

Why You Need Experienced Legal Representation for Your Wrongful Death Claim

In the wake of a loved one’s unexpected passing due to someone else’s negligence, the emotional toll can be immense. While criminal charges may be pursued by the state in some cases, wrongful death claims provide a separate avenue for surviving family members to seek financial compensation for their loss. This process can be intricate, and experienced legal representation can help you navigate it successfully.

Here’s why an experienced attorney is essential for your wrongful death claim:
Understanding Complexities:
Wrongful death laws vary by state, and Texas has specific statutes outlining recoverable damages and who can file a claim. An attorney can ensure you comply with these legal requirements.

Gathering Evidence: Building a strong wrongful death case requires collecting evidence to prove negligence and the damages suffered. An attorney can investigate the incident, gather witness statements, and work with experts to establish the full extent of your losses.

Negotiating with Insurance Companies: Insurance companies representing the at-fault party will often try to minimize payouts. An attorney with experience negotiating wrongful death settlements can advocate for the compensation you deserve.

Emotional Support: Losing a loved one is incredibly difficult. A skilled attorney can provide guidance and support throughout the legal process, allowing you to focus on healing and grieving. 

Wrongful Death Claim in Texas vs. Criminal Charges: Understanding Legal Options After a Tragic Loss

Seeking Justice for Your Loss: We’re Here to Help.

The sudden loss of a loved one is a deeply personal experience. No amount of money can replace their presence, but a wrongful death claim can help alleviate some of the financial burdens during this challenging time.

We understand the profound grief and emotional turmoil families face after such a loss. In your favor are our 85+ years of combined experience in understanding and deciphering the nuances of Texas wrongful death laws. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights of families who have suffered a tragic loss and helping them secure the financial assistance they need during this difficult time.

Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your specific situation. We’re here to listen with compassion and guide you toward securing the compensation you deserve.