Surviving family members and dependents have the right in the state of Texas to hold someone accountable when they caused a death. Wrongful death laws ensure that when the death is a result of an accident or a mistake, surviving family members can file a lawsuit to recover their losses. Many families find the process of pursuing wrongful death claims a form of closure after a tragic loss.
In fact, civil lawsuits often serve as a stand-in for criminal justice in scenarios where there is not sufficient evidence of a crime leading up to the fatality. In order to minimize the impact of your loss on your life and maximize the consequences for the person responsible, you will likely want to seek as much compensation as Texas allows you under the law.
You probably already know that you can seek actual damages. Actual damages are provable financial losses that relate to a wrongful death case. Lost wages, funeral expenses and property damage are all examples of actual damages. However, in certain, particularly egregious, cases, you can also seek exemplary damages.
What are exemplary damages?
The term exemplary damages is not a common one, and it might not initially make sense to you. Many other states with similar wrongful death laws refer to exemplary damages as punitive damages. In other words, exemplary damages are financial amounts awarded to the survivors of the victim of a wrongful death case as a means of penalizing the person responsible.
Exemplary damages increase the amount of compensation survivors can seek in a lawsuit. The amount involved could vary drastically depending on the circumstances, and there is often some discretion regarding the size of exemplary damages.
When can families seek exemplary damages in Texas?
Not every situation that allows a family to seek wrongful death compensation will also allow for exemplary damages. Wrongful death lawsuits can apply to a broad range of situations. Only in certain circumstances may survivors also seek exemplary damages in their suit.
In order to successfully seek exemplary damages in court, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the death is the result of a willful act, intentional omission or gross negligence on the part of the defendant. A situation in which a driver violates state law knowingly and then causes an accident could potentially qualify for exemplary damages. There are many scenarios that could involve willful acts or gross negligence leading to injury and death.
Wrongful death lawsuits are complex, but your family should not shy away from using the civil courts to seek justice after a wrongful death. Instead, you should speak with an experienced Texas attorney who understands wrongful death statutes to understand your options moving forward.