It’s the worst possible outcome of any accident or negligence scenario: The injuries caused by the accident are so severe that a life is lost. And if you are a loved one who is left behind after that life is lost, you may also be feeling at a loss over what you can do about it.
Those who lost their lives cannot fight for themselves against the person who caused them harm. That means it may be up to you to not only fight for the justice they deserve but for the compensation, you and your family might need and be entitled to now that a member of your family is missing from your lives.
But there are several important laws and factors that apply to wrongful death cases that are important to understand before deciding whether or not to undertake this long and often grueling process.
Q: What qualifies as a wrongful death?
A: Missouri law defines a “wrongful death” as a death that results “from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction, or circumstance which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages in respect thereof.” section 537.080
In other words, if someone dies for a reason directly related to the misconduct or negligence of another person, and likely would have sued that person for personal injury damages had they survived, the situation could qualify as wrongful death. And in this case, the deceased person’s survivors are the ones who would step in and seek that compensation on the deceased person’s behalf.
Q: How can wrongful death happen?
A: Human life is fragile, and death after an accident can sometimes be surprising, shocking, or unexpected. There are many ways in which a neglectful act or accident scenario can lead to wrongful death, but some of the most common scenarios can include:
- Fatal car accidents or trucking accidents
- Slip or trip and fall hazards that lead to catastrophic injury
- Severe sports-related or other accidental physical injuries caused by another person
- Caretaker negligence at daycare or nursing facilities
- Product malfunction
- A deliberate attack on the victim
Q: Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri?
A: Different states have different statutes when it comes to determining who can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased victim. In Missouri, the law first looks to the deceased’s surviving spouse, children, or if the children are deceased, the children’s descendants. The parents of the deceased are also often a viable option if none of the first three are applicable. If no one from any of these categories is surviving or applicable, then a surviving sibling or his or her descendants may file a wrongful death lawsuit.
If multiple members are eligible to file a wrongful death claim, any one of these members may file the claim, with or without the permission of the others. It’s at the end of that claim or lawsuit that the court will decide how any awarded funds will be allocated among class members. No matter who files the claim, the court is responsible for allocating any settlement funds proportionate to the losses suffered by every party that is found entitled to a share of the funds.
Q: Who can I sue for wrongful death?
A: This most often depends on how the accident occurred, or what (and who) is ultimately determined to be the cause of the wrongful death. The answer to those questions may not always be completely obvious or black and white, and so determining who to hold responsible and actually file the lawsuit against can be difficult if you’re unfamiliar with how these processes work.
By way of example, let’s look at a wrongful death suffered as a result of a trucking accident. It may be the driver of the truck involved in the accident who can be found negligent, but it may also be the trucking company who owns the truck and may have neglected to properly maintain or inspect it if that’s what’s found to have caused the accident. Or it could be the person who improperly loaded the cargo onto the truck if that cargo is found to have caused the accident. It can even be the manufacturing company that produces parts for the semi-truck in question that might be sueable if they are found to have played a role. It all depends on what the investigation finds as the root cause of the accident that led to the death.
Q: What is the statute of limitations on suing for wrongful death in Missouri?
A: The statute of limitations for a wrongful death works a little differently than most statutes of limitation for other kinds of cases. In most personal injury cases, the clock on the statute of limitations starts ticking on the day the accident occurred. But in the case of wrongful death, the timing of the deadline does not enact until the date of the actual victim’s death. And that statute of limitations to file is three years from that date.
So for example, if your loved one was involved in a car accident that put them in the hospital for several months, at which time they finally succumbed to their injuries, the start date of the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit would begin on the day they passed away—not the date the car accident they were involved in occurred several months prior. Then, from that date of death, you and your legal team would have exactly three years to file your lawsuit against the party you believe is responsible for the accident with the court.
Q: How is a wrongful death lawsuit proven and won?
A: As mentioned, it can take a lot of careful and deliberate investigation to determine the true root cause of wrongful death. And then, when that determining factor is pinpointed, it takes special expertise to gather all the evidence needed to prove that to be the case. And a wrongful death lawsuit doesn’t always end up argued in a court of law. It can take months—sometimes years—of back-and-forth negotiation between the victim’s party and the responsible party as they attempt to reach a settlement value that is agreeable and just for the victims. Only when such an agreement can’t be reached does the case head to court, where both sides will argue their case for who they believe should be held responsible, and a judge and jury will determine the compensation to be awarded—if any.
Q: What kind of compensation can I expect to receive in a wrongful death lawsuit?
A: Some of the damages that eligible survivors of a wrongful death lawsuit might be entitled to are:
- Funeral and burial expenses for the deceased.
- Any medical bills related to the deceased’s related injuries or illnesses.
- The value of the wages and benefits the deceased would have likely earned on behalf of their family if they had survived.
- Compensation for related pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death.
- A determined reasonable value of any services, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, training, or other support that the deceased provided to their surviving family members.
These types of assignments of damages leave a lot of room for interpretation, but also leave room for strong evidence on behalf of the victim to be presented. For example, Finney Injury Law recently secured a $20 million wrongful death verdict for the parents of a 19-year-old boy who wrongfully lost his life in a trucking accident.
While not all outcomes of similar cases can be guaranteed to look the same, if you believe you’ve lost your loved one to a wrongful death scenario, it never hurts to reach out to an expert St. Louis, MO wrongful death attorney from Finney Injury Law and ask some questions about what your case and compensation might look like. Call us today for a free case evaluation at 314-293-4222.