A deadly accident alters a family forever. Losing a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences. Losing a loved one as a result of the carelessness, recklessness or intentional act of another compounds the suffering. In addition to the loss of companionship, the untimely death of a loved one may also mean the loss of support for a family that may be reeling from significant medical debts.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A wrongful death action may arise from a variety of injury producing events. Car accidents and tractor trailer accidents are responsible for thousands of wrongful deaths ever year. The reckless, careless and negligent conduct of physicians are also responsible for unnecessary deaths every year. Defective and unsafe products injury and kill countless others as well. Any death that resulted from the negligent, careless, or intentional conduct of another person may result in a wrongful death case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri?
Under Missouri law, only certain people are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and only one action may be filed for a person’s death. Section 537.080 of the Missouri Revised Statutes sets forth three classes of people who may file a wrongful death claim.
The first class of people given legal preference to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the person who died are the decedent’s:
- Lineal descendants such as grandchildren and great granchildren
If the decedent did not have a spouse, parents or lineal descendants, Missouri law allows people who fall into one of these classes to file a wrongful death suit:
- Nieces and nephews
Missouri’s wrongful death law gives preference to the first class of people. If no one qualifies for the first class, then the second category of potential claimants is given preference. As a last resort, the court may appoint a plaintiff ad litem to prosecute the action.
It is also important to know that only one wrongful death action may be brought for the death of any one person.
Can An Absent Parent Cash In On A Wrongful Death Settlement?
A common concern in wrongful death cases is whether a parent, who has been absent from their child’s life, is able to participate in a wrongful death lawsuit brought on the child’s behalf. The Missouri wrongful death case of Glasco v. Fire & Casualty Ins. Co., 709 S.W.2d 550, 554 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986), states that Missouri’s Wrongful Death Act, as codified in Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.080(1), demands “the claim for wrongful death is vested in both parents and creates an indivisible right”. While both parents are able to participate in their child’s wrongful death lawsuit, circumstances may demand an unequal distribution of the wrongful death settlement.
Courts of Missouri are often faced with the difficult decision of dividing wrongful death settlements between two parents. According to Missouri case law, “Section 537.095.3, RSMo. 1979, clearly authorizes the court to “enter a judgment as to . . . damages, apportioning them among those persons entitled thereto in proportion to the losses suffered by each as determined by the court. (Emphasis added)” Id. at 555. Courts of Missouri will take into account multiple factors in determining the extent of loss suffered by each surviving parent prior to dividing settlement proceeds.
Courts in Missouri often find that the parents are not entitled to an equal division of the settlement proceeds in a wrongful death case. In Glasco, the court awarded the mother of the deceased child 90% of the settlement and the father only 10%. The court found from the evidence that the father had failed to support his child and maintained only minimal contacts with his child from 1972 until her death in 1984. Id. at 555. This case clearly demonstrates that courts will take into account numerous factors of the parental relationship when determining how to divide a Missouri wrongful death settlement between parents.
What Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Missouri’s wrongful death statute is clear with regard to the type of compensation that may be recovered. Survival damages are available under section 537.090. Survival damages allow family members to make a claim for the pain and suffering the decedent experienced before death. These damages also include compensation for expenses related to the last illness, such as lost earnings and medical expenses.
Missouri law also allows the plaintiff in a wrongful death case to recover damages for pecuniary loss, funeral expenses and the reasonable value of the loss of services and consortium of the decedent.
In short, a wrongful death action may seek compensation for:
- Hospital, doctor and medical bills incurred before the death
- The decedent’s pain and suffering before death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- The reasonable value of services, support and consortium that the decedent provided.
How do I File a St. Louis Wrongful Death Claim?
Missouri law limits the time in which a wrongful death claim may be filed to three years from the date of the death.
However, it is best to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after your loss. An experienced fatal accident lawyer can help ensure that key evidence is preserved. As time passes, it may be difficult for witnesses to accurately recall events, and landscapes may change. A wrongful death attorney can coordinate witness interviews and make sure that an accident scene is accurately photographed. In addition, all wrongful death settlements require court approval under Missouri Law.
To determine whether you may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, contact St. Louis wrongful death lawyer Christopher R. Dixon for a FREE case consultation by calling (314) 409-7060. Case intake specialists at The Dixon Injury Firm are standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help provide answers to your questions.