Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas?

A wrongful death claim arises when someone dies as a result of the negligence or wrongful act of another person. For example, if someone is killed in a car accident because another driver ran through a red light, then certain members of the family of the deceased may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent driver and recover compensation.  Or, if during a medical procedure a healthcare worker makes an error that results in death, the family can file a wrongful death lawsuit based on medical malpractice.  Each state has its own rules regarding wrongful death lawsuits.  In Texas, the Wrongful Death Act created such a cause of action, giving certain surviving relatives the legal right to sue for damages due to the death of their loved one.  A wrongful death lawsuit may be brought not just against an individual, but against the government or a business.  For example, if a construction worker falls and dies at a worksite, his or her family may sue the construction company under the Wrongful Death Act.

Wrongful Death Plaintiffs

Texas law is very specific about who has the right to sue upon another's wrongful death.  Statutory beneficiaries include the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.  The statute, however does not allow siblings to bring wrongful death claims for the loss of a sister or brother.

For purposes of a wrongful death lawsuit, a spouse has the right to sue, even if the couple was separated at the time of the death.  As Texas has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, same sex spouses cannot sue for the wrongful death of a spouse.

Adoptive parents are "parents" for purposes of the Wrongful Death Act, but stepparents and foster parents are not.  Thus, biological parents of an adopted child could not sue, while the biological parents of a foster child or a child that also has stepparents do have the right to sue.  Grandparents cannot bring wrongful death lawsuits for the deaths of grandchildren.

Financial Recovery in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A litigant who prevails in a wrongful death lawsuit may recover damages for actual financial losses, for non-economic losses, and for exemplary damages. Economic losses include actual medical expenses and funeral expenses, loss of the deceased person's earning capacity, loss of benefits such as medical insurance or pension benefits, and loss of inheritance. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of guidance, training and nurturing, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium.  A successful litigant can recover additional damages, referred to as exemplary damages, that are awarded to punish a defendant for particularly egregious behavior.  They are typically awarded in cases where the defendant acted willfully or with gross negligence.

An Austin wrongful death attorney points out that not all plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit would be entitled to all types of damages.  The amount of damages that a wrongful death case plaintiff receives depends on several factors including the relationship the plaintiff had to the deceased.  For example, a spouse could recover damages for loss of consortium while a child could not.  On the other hand, a child could sue for loss of guidance, training and nurturing while a parent could not.


Some states' rules regarding wrongful death lawsuits are broader than Texas' rules and allow siblings, grandparents, and in some cases anyone who suffered financially from the wrongful death.  Do you think Texas' Wrongful Death Act is too narrow, and should be expanded to allow for additional statutory beneficiaries?

Mounier, A. 2013, Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit in Texas?.

Tags: Texas Law, Personal Injury, Wrongful Death,