When a person is wrongfully killed in Texas due to the fault of another person, company, or a defective product the law provides two types of claims that may be brought. The first is a “wrongful death” claim which may be brought by the surviving spouse, parents and children of the deceased. Siblings and other relatives may not bring a claim. The damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death claim include “pecuniary loss” (loss of the care, maintenance, support, services, advice, counsel, and contributions of a monetary nature that the survivor would have received from the decedent), “loss of companionship and society” (such as loss of love, comfort, and companionship the survivor sustained), “mental anguish” (emotional pain, torment, and suffering), and “loss of inheritance.” Of course the person bringing the wrongful death claim will have to have evidence of these damages. Although it is virtually impossible to put a dollar value of some of these things, juries in wrongful death cases are asked to do so.
The second type of claim that may be brought in Texas when someone is wrongfully killed is a “survival claim.” This claim may be brought by the estate of the deceased or a representative of the estate. The damages that may be recovered include the pain and mental anguish that the decedent experienced before his death, medical expenses for the treatment of the decedent’s injuries, and funeral and burial expenses. When a person dies instantly in an accident and does not incur any medical bills, a survival claim is limited to the funeral and burial expenses. On the other hand if the decedent experienced suffering before death then damages for pain and mental anguish may be awarded.
Exemplary or punitive damages may be recovered in both survival and wrongful death claims if there was “gross negligence.” The purpose of these damages is to punish the wrongdoer and to deter such conduct in the future.