If you have recently lost someone in your family due to an accident on the job, you have our deepest sympathies. This kind of loss is often unexpected, and will mean many difficulties in the coming weeks—but you do not have to face them alone. It is vital that you have answers to your questions about filing death claims, as well as the information you need to get proper compensation for your loss.
How Texas Workers' Compensation Affects a Wrongful Death Case
The first thing you should understand about work injury death claims is that your benefits depend on whether or not your loved one’s employer had workers’ compensation insurance. In Texas, employers can choose whether or not they want to subscribe to the workers’ compensation system. If the employer does have workers’ comp, you and the dependent members of the family may be eligible for death benefits as well as up to $6000 for funeral and burial expenses. To get these benefits, the person in charge of the deceased’s estate must file a workers’ compensation death benefits claim (including a copy of the death certificate) within one year of the date of death.
If the employer did not carry workers’ compensation insurance, you may file a lawsuit against the company for causing unnecessary injury and death. While families may only file lawsuits against employers who carry workers’ compensation if they are extremely negligent, families may sue a non-subscribing employer after any work-related injury or death.
Rules and Requirements of Suing an Employer for a Wrongful Death in Texas
If a loved one is killed at work as a result of someone’s negligence, his or her family members have the right to sue the person or company at fault for causing the death. The Texas Wrongful Death Act allows people who have been forced to cope with the loss of a relative to get compensation for a workplace injury or illness by filing a lawsuit. However, relatives will have to follow the requirements of the statute in order to get compensation, including:
- Who can file a suit? In Texas, only three types of people (called statutory beneficiaries) are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit: a deceased’s spouse, a deceased’s children, and a deceased’s parents.
- Whom do I sue? The party who should be named in the lawsuit is the person whose negligence was responsible for causing the injury or illness. This could be the employer, a coworker, or a third-party (such as the manufacturer of a defective product).
- What kinds of damages can I get? A wrongful death claim differs slightly from an injury claim since it is meant to compensate families for what they have lost, rather than what the decedent has lost. Types of financial losses to the family can include the loss of the decedent’s future income (if the deceased had worked until retirement age), the loss of the value of the inheritance that the decedent’s beneficiaries will receive, the costs of funeral expenses, and any expenses incurred by the family for psychological treatment or bereavement therapy.
- Are damages only for income losses? No, there are many kinds of damages that can be hard to quantify, and families may be able to collect for these kinds of losses. For example, the loss of childcare and other services typically performed by the spouse, loss of parental advice and counsel to the children, and the loss of companionship and enjoyment of a loved one’s company.
- Are punitive damages allowed? Yes. If you and your family experienced extreme mental or emotional anguish, or if the employer was grossly negligent in causing the conditions that led to the injury, you may be awarded punitive damages.
- Could I file a survival claim? A survival claim can be filed in addition to a wrongful death claim. The difference is that the survival claim is to compensate the deceased for the pain and suffering that he or she endured. In effect, family members are taking over the personal injury claim that their loved one would have been able to pursue if he or she had lived. If your loved one was killed instantly and received no medical treatment, there will likely not be grounds for a survival claim. If the decedent suffered severe injuries as well as pain and suffering before death, families could well be able to file a personal injury claim.
- How long do I have to file a suit? Texas residents have only two years from the date of the death (or in some cases, the date of the accident) in which to bring a lawsuit. If the suit is not filed within this time, families are barred from filing a suit at all.
If you are not sure what to do after a work injury resulted in a death, our attorneys can listen to your story and advise you of your rights. Contact the Packard Law Firm today to set up your free, confidential consultation.