The legal system can be confusing to anyone, and it doesn’t get any easier when you’re dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one.
A lot of legal myths and misconceptions get passed around to survivors by well-intentioned friends and family, and it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction during a difficult time in your life. One big misconception is about the nature of wrongful death lawsuits versus criminal charges. Sometimes, those who have survived an accident but lost a loved one believe that the court will take care of everything when the responsible person is arrested and charged. Is that really the case?
Here’s what you should know about wrongful death lawsuits when there are criminal charges involved, and how you can get the legal help you need today.
Criminal Court Versus Civil Court in Texas
Just because there are criminal charges filed against a person doesn’t mean that he or she is going to be ordered to pay restitution to survivors. The criminal justice system is concerned with corrections and punishment of those who violate the law. It is not a victim-centric system, in other words. The criminal courts are designed to protect society as a whole, but they do not typically provide relief to specific people who have been wronged.
However, there is another legal system that is separate but parallel to the criminal system that is designed for victims to seek compensation for their losses: the civil court. Civil court is where victims are able to file wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits (legally known as “torts”) to receive a ruling that grants them a financial award for the damages they’ve suffered.
Since both the criminal and civil legal systems are separate, it’s entirely possible and often expected that there will be a civil lawsuit against someone who has committed (or allegedly committed) a crime that cost a life or lives. The two court systems are complimentary, but unrelated.
It’s important for families to realize that although a successful criminal conviction could help your civil case, it’s not necessary, so don’t give up hope. Even if a conviction is not made in criminal court, representatives of an estate may succeed in a civil lawsuit against the responsible party, because standards of evidence in a civil case are different than those of a criminal case. Criminal prosecutors must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a crime was committed. Civil court requires a “preponderance of evidence” to show that it is more likely than not that the defendant (the person being sued) is responsible for the claims made by the plaintiff (the victim filing the lawsuit.)
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
One important element in a wrongful death lawsuit is that the authorities will not usually file this type of lawsuit on your behalf. If a survivor wishes to seek compensation for a wrongful death, he or she will need to file the civil lawsuit, usually with the help of an attorney. Texas law says that those who may file a wrongful death claim must typically be related to the deceased, including:
- A surviving spouse.
- Adult children and children who have been legally adopted.
- Parents, including the legally adoptive parents of a deceased child.
The only exception to this is when the surviving family declines to file a lawsuit within three months. In this case, personal representative of the estate of the deceased may elect to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the three-month time period has passed, unless a surviving family member requests otherwise. Siblings may not bring a wrongful death lawsuit in the state of Texas.
Get Legal Help Today
If you have lost somebody that you love through the carelessness, recklessness, or wrongdoing of someone else, you have the deepest sympathies of Wayne Wright LLP. We’ve spent decades helping survivors seek financial compensation for their loss, and we’d like to help you and your family receive the justice that you deserve in a court of law. For a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced legal professional at Wayne Wright LLP, call us today, use our contact form to send us an email, or click the live chat box on this page right now.