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What Happens When a Loved One Is Killed by a Drunk Driver?

Ellis & Thomas, PLLC July 3, 2023

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drunk driving accidents took the lives of 1,162 people on the state’s roadways in 2022. The fatalities are increasing, year after year. The statistics are alarming to anyone, but never more so than those who have lost a loved one at the hands of a drunk driver.  

At Ellis & Thomas, PLLC, we dedicate ourselves to helping families of victims hold drunk drivers accountable. Drunk drivers will be prosecuted in criminal court, but that does little for those left behind. If you have lost someone you love in a drunk driving accident in Houston, Texas, or in the surrounding areas of Harris County, Fort Bend County, Brazoria County, or Montgomery County, let our wrongful death attorneys show you how and why you should pursue a wrongful death claim.  

What’s the Point of Filing a Wrongful Death Claim? 

We have far too many people who walk through our door and tell us, “A drunk driver killed my loved one.” A senseless act of negligence caused a drunk driving accident—leading to death on a Texas roadway. How will filing a wrongful death claim help? 

It is true that nothing will bring back the person you have lost or save you from the grief you are experiencing. It is also true that the drunk driver will be prosecuted in criminal court and punished.  However, pursuing a wrongful death action in civil court holds the driver financially accountable for their negligence, and that may save another family from having to endure such a horrible loss.  

A civil claim can help you recover compensation that will pay for such losses as medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and the loss of income your loved one would have earned had their life not been cut short. You can also receive compensation for the loss of companionship, guidance, and the services they provided in your life.  

You can use that compensation to move on with your life, pay for college educations or mortgages, or to benefit people and causes your loved one believed in.  

Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim for Negligence That Caused My Loved One’s Death?   

Not everyone can file a wrongful death claim in Texas, but surviving spouses, children, and parents can. If none of you choose to file a claim within three months of death, the personal representative of your loved one’s estate may file a wrongful death claim to recover losses on behalf of their estate.  

Whether you file a wrongful death lawsuit, or the personal representative does, it must be done within two years from the date of death. Otherwise, the right to pursue a claim is forfeited. However, if your loved one was a minor at the time of death, the statute extends to two years from the date of what would have been their 18th birthday.   

Is the Drunk Driver the Only Person Liable? 

Of course, the drunk driver is liable for damages in a wrongful death claim, but they may not be the only person or entity you can sue. If the drunk driver was not the owner of the car, the car’s owner could be sued for “negligent entrustment.” So can the parents of a minor child who was driving drunk.  

If the drunk driver was served by an establishment that provided, sold, or served alcohol to an intoxicated person whose drunkenness was the proximate cause of the car accident, the establishment can be sued under Texas dram shop law.  

Finally, if the drunk driver was working in the agency or was the employee of an individual or business at the time of the accident, the employer could be liable for wrongful death as well.  

How Does the Dram Shop Law Work in Texas? 

An establishment must meet three criteria to be held liable under the state’s dram shop law: 

  1. The driver must have been visibly intoxicated when it continued to serve them.  

  1. The establishment’s actions must have been the cause that led to the accident.  

  1. The death must have been the result of the injuries sustained in the accident.  

If the drunk driver was under age 18 and was provided alcohol by someone other than a spouse, parents, or guardians, and they served alcohol to the minor on property owned or leased by them, they can also be held liable under the dram shop law.  

Fight for What Matters Most 

Pursuing a wrongful death claim in the wake of your loved one’s death at the hands of a drunk driver won’t replace what you have lost. But it may help make your life and others’ easier as you move forward. If you are ready to talk about a wrongful death claim in Houston, Texas, or the surrounding counties, we are ready to listen. Once we do, we will fight for you. Call Ellis & Thomas, PLLC, now to schedule a free case consultation