Losing a loved one is extremely difficult under any circumstances. If there is reason to suspect that the wrongful or careless acts of another person caused the death, however, it can be even harder to cope with your loss. Filing a wrongful death claim may bring your family closure by holding the at-fault party responsible. Learning the basics of Missouri’s wrongful death laws can help you understand your rights during this challenging and emotional time.
When Can Someone File a Claim for Wrongful Death in Missouri?
Revisor of Missouri Section 537.080 defines wrongful death as a civil action that can be brought when the death of a person results from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction or circumstance which, had death not ensued, would have entitled the person injured to recover damages. The law states that, in this case, the person, party or corporation that would have been found liable had the victim survived shall be liable in an action for wrongful death.
One way to look at a wrongful death claim is that surviving family members are granted the right to sue for financial damages if the deceased victim would have been eligible for damages in a personal injury claim had he or she survived the accident. Under state law in Missouri, the party or parties that would have been allocated fault for the accident in a personal injury case can still face liability after the death of the person injured.
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
Most wrongful death actions are brought on the assertion that the accused party, or defendant, was negligent or committed a wrongful act and that this caused the victim’s death. Negligence is a legal doctrine that refers to the failure to use proper care. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the filing party (plaintiff) has the burden of proof. This means the plaintiff’s attorney must establish the required elements of a claim.
A wrongful death case in Missouri contains four main elements:
- Duty of care: the defendant had a legal duty to act with care toward the deceased individual or decedent.
- Breach of the duty of care: the defendant failed to meet his or her obligation to act with care, such as through a careless or reckless mistake.
- Causation: the defendant’s negligence or breach of duty was the cause of the decedent’s fatal injury or illness.
- Damages: quantifiable or compensable damages resulted from the death of the victim, such as lost income or funerary costs.
When negligence results in injury or death to another person, the negligent party can be held accountable with a wrongful death claim. The burden of proof used in the civil justice system is “based on a preponderance of the evidence.” This means the plaintiff’s attorney must provide enough evidence to establish the required elements as more likely to be true than not true. The evidence available to support a wrongful death claim may include hospital or medical records, accident reports, photographs and videos, eyewitness accounts, and expert testimony.
What Is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Criminal Homicide Case?
A wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal case brought against an individual for causing the death of another person are within two different and entirely separate justice systems. A wrongful death claim is brought in the civil court, which is subject to a different set of rules and evidentiary standards than the criminal court. In the criminal justice system, a defendant who is charged with a crime must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition, to prove an individual guilty of a crime, intent must be established. For example, in a homicide case, intent to injure or kill the victim must be established beyond a reasonable doubt for the jury to reach a guilty verdict. A wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, on the other hand, does not require proof of intent to harm. A defendant can be held liable for the death of an individual even if he or she carelessly or unintentionally caused the fatality.
Finally, these two types of cases have different goals. A wrongful death claim aims to make a plaintiff whole again by providing financial compensation for his or her losses, to be paid for by the person or party that is found liable for the death of the victim. By contrast, the goal of a criminal case is to punish an individual for breaking the law by imposing a sentence upon conviction, such as jail or prison time.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death in Missouri
A wrongful death claim can be filed in Missouri after many different types of fatal accidents and incidents. Missouri’s wrongful death statute has a broad definition of wrongful death that can apply in numerous circumstances, including:
- Motor vehicle collisions
- Commercial truck accidents
- Bicycle and pedestrian accidents
- Drunk driving accidents
- Aviation accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Acts of violence or violent crimes
- Catastrophic falls
- Construction accidents
- Workplace disasters
- Defective product incidents
If the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death are suspicious or point to negligence on the part of another individual or entity, there may be grounds for surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim.
What Compensation Is Available With a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri?
In Missouri, a wrongful death claim can be brought in pursuit of financial compensation for reasonable funeral and burial expenses, the value of lost household services and contributions, loss of consortium, lost wages and inheritance, and the victim’s medical bills and pain and suffering incurred from the time of injury to the time of death.
These financial damages can be recovered by one or multiple surviving relatives of the decedent. The individuals who have the right to file a wrongful death claim in Missouri are the decedent’s surviving spouse, parent(s), children or children’s descendants, in that order. If none of these parties survives, a surviving sibling or his or her descendants can file, or the courts will appoint a representative to file.
When to Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
If you recently lost a loved one in an accident and suspect that one or more parties are to blame, contact a Kansas City wrongful death lawyer at Dickerson Oxton to request a free case consultation. Your family may be eligible for financial compensation. Most importantly, an attorney can help you move forward by holding a negligent party responsible for the tragedy that your family has suffered.
Find out if you have grounds to bring a lawsuit in Missouri today. Call (816) 268-1960 for a free wrongful death case review with an attorney.