Houston Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

The unanticipated death of a loved one can be overwhelming. It can take months or even years for survivors to emerge from the fog of grief and begin putting their lives back together. Unfortunately, the state of Texas does not take that natural grieving process into account for its statute of limitations. Just like for most personal injury cases, under Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code § 71.001, the statute of limitations (SOL) for wrongful death cases is two years.

Generally, that means that survivors have two years from the date of the death to bring a wrongful death claim. Even if you are not sure whether you want to bring a wrongful death claim, you should consult with an attorney well within the two-year Houston wrongful death statute of limitations to find out more about your options.

What if it has been more than two years since the death of your loved one? You should still schedule a consultation with an attorney. While there are only a few exceptions to the two-year SOL, they do exist. An attorney can explain whether or not any apply to your case.

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

Texas provides a cause of action for surviving family members who lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or willful act. A wrongful death claim alleges that the wrongdoer’s action was the cause of death and seeks financial damages related to that action. It is not the same as a survival action, where an heir or other representative of the deceased or their estate brings a lawsuit to recover damages the deceased experienced prior to death.

The law only permits certain family members to bring wrongful death claims in Houston. The categories include surviving spouses, children, and parents. The law recognizes adoptive family members but does not include stepparents or stepchildren.

Understanding the Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations is a time established by the legislature for bringing certain types of claims. The goal of a SOL is to ensure that the incident is fresh enough to provide both parties with the opportunity to present evidence. The older an incident is, the more difficult it can be to provide evidence regarding the claim.

Generally, a SOL begins running on the date of an incident. A wrongful death claim is different. The SOL does not begin to run until the date of death, even if the date of death is years—or even decades—after the incident that led to the death. If a wrongdoer’s actions directly or indirectly led to a loved one’s death, the survivors may have a Houston wrongful death claim.

Tolling Houston’s Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

In legal terms, tolling means to extend, and the law permits extending the SOL under specific circumstances. It can involve delaying the start of the two years or something that pauses the two years at some point in the middle.

When a survivor is a minor, the SOL does not begin running until the survivor turns 18. However, parents or guardians can bring wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of minor survivors before the child reaches the age of majority.

Another reason to toll a statute of limitations is when the wrongdoing was not evident at the time of death. Sometimes, negligence is not apparent for natural reasons. Other times, the potential defendant may have hidden evidence of negligence. Either way, the statute is tolled until evidence of the negligence is—or should have been—discovered.

Finally, many people are unaware that their personal health issues can toll the wrongful death statute of limitations in Houston. Suppose a victim suffers mental or physical health issues related to the death of their loved one. In that case, they may be able to claim that these issues prevented them from being competent, rendering them unable to file a timely claim.

Talk to a Lawyer About the Houston Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations

If you have lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence, you may have a wrongful death claim. However, the SOL for those claims is relatively short. Under most circumstances, you only have two years after the death to bring your claim. While two years may seem like a long time, it is not when someone is suffering from grief and adjusting to life without a loved one. To learn more about your rights and how to preserve them, contact an attorney about the Houston wrongful death statute of limitations.

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