Monday, August 31, 2009

Siblings can't sue under Wrongful Death Act


Court of Appeals declines to expand the scope of the wrongful death statute to include additional classes of beneficiaries and reiterates that the cause of action does not exist at common law. Therefore the statute controls. Alternative theories of recovery, including a bystander claim, are also rejected.

Godfrey v. BP Products North America (Tex.App.- Houston [14th Dist.] Aug. 25, 2009)
(refinery explosion, siblings cannot recover under
wrongful death act, no recovery as bystanders either as they did not witness the calamity, negligent infliction of emotional distress generally not actionable, IIED cause of action)


Appellants Cannot Recover for Wrongful Death

Within their first issue, appellants contend the trial court erred when it granted appellee's motion for summary judgment on appellants' wrongful death claims. At the same time, appellants admit that, as siblings of Taylor, they are not covered by the Wrongful Death Act and argue for a good-faith extension of the law. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 71.004(a) (Vernon 2008) (“An action to recover damages as provided by this subchapter is for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse, children, and parents of the deceased.").

There was no common law cause of action for wrongful death in Texas. Moreno v. Sterling Drug, Inc., 787 S.W.2d 348, 356 (Tex. 1990). Therefore, wrongful death causes of action owe their existence to statutes changing the common law rule. Id. Increasing the number of persons eligible to recover under the Wrongful Death Act is not the function of an intermediate court of appeals. Instead, the Wrongful Death Act reflects the public policy of Texas as determined by the Texas legislature and courts must read the legislature's words as enacted, not revise them as desired. See Entergy Gulf States, Inc. v. Summers, 282 S.W.3d 433, 476 (Tex. 2009) (Willet, J., concurring). “The wisdom or expediency of the law is the Legislature's prerogative, not ours." Id. (quoting Tex. Workers' Comp. Comm'n v. Garcia, 893 S.W.2d 504, 520 (Tex. 1995)). We overrule appellants' first issue to the extent appellants ask this court to extend the scope of the Wrongful Death Act to include siblings as beneficiaries.

AFFIRMED: Opinion by Justice Anderson
Before Justices Anderson, Frost and Guzman
14-08-00857-CV Leah Godfrey and Cheri Merritt v. BP Products North America
Appeal from 212th District Court of Galveston County
Trial Court Judge:
Susan Elizabeth Criss

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