In Texas, not all family members are permitted to pursue a claim for wrongful death. In addition, each family member is considered to be a separate claimant, rather than the family itself serving as the overall claimant. This means that any settlement awarded must be divided amongst them individually, with the exact percentage depending on the extent of their specific damages.
As stated by Joe Stephens, a winning Houston negligent death law firm, while negligence and responsibility are equally apportioned in a wrongful death claim, the damages are not. That means the value of these damages can differ greatly for beneficiaries depending on both monetary and non-monetary factors.
What criteria do juries use when determining compensation for families in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Essentially, working out the amount of damages awarded in a wrongful death suit is the responsibility of the jury. That means they will consider the relationship between each potential beneficiary and the deceased. If for example, the deceased and the claimant were estranged, they might award nothing, regardless of the claimant’s legal status as a beneficiary.
Thanks to the wealth of data obtained from previous wrongful death cases, it is possible to determine the likely outcome of a jury’s deliberations. Usually, the damages will be broken down amongst the family as follows:
- Usually the spouse will receive the largest amount of compensation. For instance, in cases where the spouse depends on the deceased’s income, it is easy enough to establish the impact of the loss of earnings. Likewise, the mental anguish and trauma are also included in this.
- Substantial damages are usually awarded to the deceased’s young children, too. This factors in both financial dependency and the loss of emotional support.
- The damages awarded to parents in a claim for their child’s wrongful death are frequently awarded substantial damages, too. After all, they are never likely to recover from the loss.
- However, the value of damages awarded to elderly parents of deceased adult children is likely to be less substantial. This is because juries tend to factor age into their deliberations.
- The same goes for adult children who make a claim for the wrongful death of an elderly parent. This is because in such cases the adult child in question is typically deemed to be more “mature” than a minor and therefore better equipped to handle the emotional trauma. Likewise they are less likely to be financially dependent on their parent.
As a general rule, the greater the emotional vulnerability and financial dependency of those left behind, the larger their damages are likely to be. It is important to remember that this is relative, and various factors are taken into consideration by the jury.
Is it necessary for all family members to join the same Wrongful Death Claim?
It is recommended that all beneficiaries participate in a single lawsuit and, where possible, are represented by the same attorney in wrongful death cases. It is helpful to co-operate and to consolidate the legal strategy of all interested parties. It also enhances efficiency and minimizes expenditure for legal costs. Practically speaking, a defendant is unlikely to agree to a settlement for a wrongful death claim which does not include all beneficiaries- especially when the statute of limitations has not yet expired. After all, it would be imprudent for them to settle one lawsuit on behalf of one family member, only for another family member to file another for the same incident.