Wrongful Death

What is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Negligence?

Posted by Trent Kelly on January 27, 2023
What is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Negligence?

The death of a loved one is devastating. Your future plans are instantly thrown out the window. The holidays will never be the same.

But how does it feel knowing that someone bears the fault for your loved one’s passing? If you have lost a family member due to wrongful death, the attorneys at TK Injury Lawyers are here to offer you invaluable advice.

What is Wrongful Death?

Texas law defines “wrongful death” as an injury that causes another person’s death. A person can be found liable for wrongful death if the injury was caused by that person’s wrongful act, neglect, carelessness, or default.

The statute does specify that an unborn or stillborn child would also qualify as a death. This often becomes relevant in medical malpractice cases.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

In Texas, certain relatives of the deceased are allowed to file a cause of action for wrongful death. In law, a cause of action is defined as a “legal claim that allows a party to seek judicial relief.”

A wrongful death suit can be filed by the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, and parents. Siblings of the deceased are not permitted to file a cause of action for wrongful death.

If none of the authorized individuals bring the case to court within three months after the deceased’s death, then the personal representative can file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. The personal representative is only prohibited from litigating a case if a family member objects.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is the failure to act or behave with reasonable care in doing something. In order for an act to be considered negligent, the level of care will not meet the standard that a person with reasonable intelligence would have taken in completing the same task.

It is important to note that the behavior usually consists of actions, but it can also apply to omissions when there is some duty to act. An omission is a failure to act or disclose information.

Negligence consists of four key components:

  1. Duty: the defendant (party being sued) had a duty to exercise reasonable care;
  2. Breach: the defendant broke that duty through an act or omission;
  3. Causation: the injury to the plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit) was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s actions;
  4. Damages: as a result of the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff has suffered injuries.

If one of these components is not present, then the plaintiff is not eligible to receive legal compensation for their injuries.

Negligence in Wrongful Death Cases

If someone behaves negligently, their actions may result in injuries to another person, but not necessarily death. Hence, only some wrongful death cases are caused by negligence.

There are two forms of causation that can occur in negligence cases: factual and proximate cause. An act would be considered the factual cause of a person’s death if their death had not resulted unless the act occurred. In other words, the defendant’s actions got the “ball rolling.”

To examine whether an act was the factual cause of a person’s death, the but-for test can be utilized. For example, “But for Sally running the red light, the pedestrian would not have been hit and succumbed to their injuries.”

Comparatively speaking, proximate cause is the legal cause of an accident or injury. Proximate means “nearly, next to, or close.” Proximate cause is an act or omission that results in a consequence (in wrongful death cases, a person’s death).

Unlike factual cause, proximate cause directly produces a result. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant can be found both the factual and proximate cause of a person’s death, or two separate parties could share responsibility.

Forms of Civil Liability in Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death is a civil action for injuries or damages caused by a person resulting in another’s demise. In other words, a wrongful death suit is a legal remedy available to family members when a loved one dies.

Negligence is just one form of liability in wrongful death suits. However, it is the most common. Medical malpractice is high on the list of negligence cases. In fact, The National Practitioner Data Bank reports that between 2021 and 2022, there were over 6,300 adverse actions taken against physicians, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners in the state of Texas. These adverse action reports are professional review actions that are taken against a health care provider, which may revoke or restrict their clinical privileges.

Other wrongful death cases that involve negligence include vehicle accidents (speeding, running red lights, failure to yield), premises liability (slip and fall), and nursing home abuse and neglect.

The other two main forms of liability are intentional misconduct and strict liability:

  • Intentional misconduct (also known as an “intentional tort”): an act done on purpose to harm another person.
    • Some common scenarios that may apply to wrongful death: assault and battery, trespass, and false imprisonment.
  • Strict liability: a defendant is liable for damage or injury, even if they are not at fault or negligent.
    • Some common scenarios that may apply to wrongful death: product liability, abnormally dangerous activities (i.e., blasting), and dog bites.

Criminal offenses, such as manslaughter or homicide, would be tried separately from a civil action for wrongful death.

These forms of liability can also pertain to non-fatal personal injury cases. A car accident could result in injuries, interfering with a person’s daily activities, but not costing them their life.

Even if a person does not intend a certain outcome, as in negligence and strict liability cases, they can and should be held legally responsible for the consequences. An Austin wrongful death lawyer will be able to answer any questions you may have regarding your specific situation.

Contact an Austin Wrongful Death Lawyer Today

If you have recently lost a family member to someone else’s actions, you deserve closure. A wrongful death lawsuit can be an uphill legal battle. The wrongful death attorneys at TK Injury Lawyers are ready to fight for you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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