What’s the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim & Survival Action?

When someone loses his or her life in a disaster, such as an auto accident, surviving family members may be able to bring a claim to damages (financial compensation) against the at-fault party in the form of a wrongful death lawsuit.

A lesser-known type of case, however, is a survival action. Although similar in nature, these are two different types of legal actions. Your family and the decedent’s estate may be eligible for damages through both types, depending on the situation.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim? 


A wrongful death claim in Missouri is a civil suit seeking financial damages from the person or party at fault for causing the fatal injury. Unlike a criminal case for murder or homicide, holding someone financially responsible (liable) for wrongful death does not require proof of intent to kill or even to harm the victim. It is possible to hold someone liable for wrongful death even if the fatal injury was an accident caused by carelessness or negligence.

According to Missouri law, a surviving spouse, child or the descendants of deceased children have the right to file a wrongful death claim for their own losses. If these beneficiaries do not exist, a surviving sibling or their descendants may file instead. If no one from either of these categories survives, the courts can appoint someone to handle the claim on behalf of other beneficiaries or the estate.

To be eligible for financial compensation with a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, beneficiaries must prove that they were reliant on the deceased individual financially at the time of death. If a wrongful death suit succeeds, the courts will divide any settlement or judgment award won based on the amount that each beneficiary was supported by the decedent.

What Is a Survival Action?


A survival action is focused on reimbursing the deceased person’s estate for the decedent’s losses, rather than reimbursing surviving family members for their grief and financial losses. A survival action is closer to a personal injury lawsuit in that it centers around the victim’s losses in connection to the preventable accident. A survival action is typically filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate.

Although the decedent is no longer around to recover compensation for his or her pain, suffering and other losses, an amount won in a survival action can go to the decedent’s estate. This can pay off any outstanding debts connected to the estate, and the rest will be distributed among living beneficiaries. It may be distributed based on the terms of the decedent’s will or the laws of intestate succession in Missouri.

What Damages Are Available for Survival Actions?


The main difference between a wrongful death claim and a survival action in Missouri is that the first allows the estate to recover financial compensation for surviving beneficiaries, while the second compensates the estate itself for the decedent’s losses. Another difference is the damages that are available in each type of case. 

A survival action in Missouri can result in financial recovery for the victim’s pain and suffering from the date of the accident to the date of death, lost wages until the time of death, medical bills, any property damage, lost quality of life, and out-of-pocket expenses. By contrast, a wrongful death claim in Missouri can result in financial compensation for survivors’ mental anguish, medical bills, funeral and burial costs, the value of lost wages and earnings over the decedent’s lifetime, and the value of lost services and support.

Speak to an Attorney for More Information


If you are considering legal action after the death of a loved one in Kansas City, Missouri, consult with an attorney. An attorney can review your case and let you know whether you have grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit, a survival action or both. Then, your attorney can help you with the required paperwork to file, as well as negotiate with an insurance company on your behalf. Although no amount of money will ever replace your loved one, a fair financial award could bring your family justice and closure.

To discuss your case with an experienced attorney, contact us for a free consultation.