The fatality rate for Texas roadways and the number of traffic deaths in Texas in 2019 decreased from the prior year. In 2019, 3,610 people died in motor vehicle accidents in Texas, a decrease from 3,652 deaths in 2018. The fatality rate was 2.33 percent lower in 2019 at 1.26 deaths per hundred million miles traveled.

For the families who lost loved ones in car accidents in 2019, even one death was one too many. Losing someone you love can result in many different emotions, including anger, frustration, disbelief, and grief. When the death was caused by a negligent, preventable accident, the emotions may become even more intense.

Thousands of families each year experience these emotions as they deal with the aftermath of a fatal car accident. Sadly, the consequences of a traffic fatality can include financial hardship for the family. The deadly traffic accident could also result in criminal charges.

Criminal Charges Following a Fatal Texas Car Crash

Whenever there is a deadly car accident, law enforcement officers investigate the cause of the crash to determine who was at fault. The at-fault driver could face one or more criminal charges if the accident involved reckless, negligent, or careless behavior. 

Circumstances that could result in a criminal charge after a deadly car accident may include:

  • Speeding – Speeding is one of the most common causes of motor vehicle fatalities each year. Excessive speed increases the risk of a crash and the severity of injuries. 
  • Reckless Driving – The Texas Traffic Code defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of property or other people. Reckless driving could include tailgating, speeding, and distracted driving.
  • Drunk Driving – Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal. If a DUI accident results in a death, the drunk driver could be charged with numerous crimes.

The prosecutor decides whether the at-fault driver’s actions support criminal charges. If the state files criminal charges after a deadly car accident, the case is handled through the criminal court. The family may have a claim in civil court under the Texas Wrongful Death Act

Understanding Your Right to Sue After a Deadly Car Accident

Motor vehicle accidents are a common reason for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death occurs when a party negligently or intentionally causes the death of another person. In other words, the person’s death was avoidable had it not been for the at-fault party’s conduct.

A wrongful death action seeks compensation for the damages caused by the death of a family member. Spouses, children, and parents generally have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased did not have any close family members or these individuals did not file a claim within three months of the death, the deceased’s estate can file a claim.

According to the Texas statute of limitations, the family generally has two years to file a wrongful death claim after a fatal car accident. The time begins to run when the person dies, which may or may not be the date of the car wreck. Failing to file a wrongful death lawsuit before the deadline means the family loses the right to seek compensation for damages.

Compensation Available for a Fatal Car Accident

The types of damages allowed for a wrongful death lawsuit are dictated by statute. 

The damages that may be allowed in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Any medical expenses incurred between the date of the car wreck and the date the victim died
  • Loss of consortium, support, companionship, guidance, and love
  • Reasonable and necessary costs of a funeral and burial
  • Loss of value of household services provided by the family member 
  • Mental distress and anguish
  • Loss of financial support that would have been provided had the family member survived
  • Loss of inheritance 

In some cases, the family may also receive punitive damages. However, punitive damages are only awarded in certain cases involving gross negligence or wrongdoing. 

Punitive damages do not compensate the family members for losses, even though the family members receive the money. These damages are intended to “punish” the party who caused the death for their conduct. 

Criminal Charges vs. Civil Lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit is separate from any criminal charges the state might file. Even if the state does not charge the at-fault driver with a crime, the family may proceed with a wrongful death action. Likewise, if the person is acquitted or the criminal charges are dropped, the family could still win in a civil court action.