Negligence can have dire, and sometimes deadly, consequences. Negligence is the failure to use a reasonable amount of care, causing injury or harm to another person. If you believe that someone’s negligence played a role in your loved one’s recent death, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri. This type of civil claim can hold a negligent party accountable and financially compensate you and your family for this devastating loss.
Determine the Heirs
A wrongful death claim can be brought if the circumstances of the death would have entitled the deceased person (known as the decedent) to recover financial compensation had he or she survived. To file this type of claim, your family first needs to determine who qualifies as heirs. The heirs of the decedent are the party/parties that have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri.
Revisor of Missouri Section 537.080, Missouri’s wrongful death law, states that the following parties may file:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving children
- Surviving lineal descendants of any deceased children
- The brother or sister of the decedent (or their descendants), if none of the parties listed above exist
- A “plaintiff ad litem,” meaning someone who is appointed by the court to have jurisdiction over the action
Before your family can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, you must determine who qualifies as an heir and has the right to bring this type of legal action under state law. If you are not sure who has this right among surviving loved ones, talk to a wrongful death attorney for guidance.
Investigate and Gather Evidence
The next step is investigating your loved one’s death and collecting any available evidence. Your goal is to identify one or more parties (known as defendants) who caused or significantly contributed to your loved one’s death through a wrongful or negligent act or omission. For example, after a fatal car accident, you or your lawyer may need to search for evidence that the other driver is at fault, such as driving drunk.
Evidence that someone else could have prevented your loved one’s fatal illness or injury may take the form of medical records, autopsy reports, expert testimony, eyewitness statements, photographs and videos, and accident reports. The investigation is typically something that can be handled by a law firm. A lawyer will have the resources to preserve and collect evidence, such as using subpoenas and letters of preservation.
Before you submit your claim, you or your lawyer must determine a fair amount in financial compensation or damages to demand. This is the amount that you will include in the demand letter that the filing party sends to an insurance company. The categories of damages that may be available in a wrongful death claim in Missouri include:
- The decedent’s final medical bills
- Funeral and burial costs
- The income and employment benefits the decedent likely would have earned had he or she survived
- Pain and suffering experienced by the decedent
- Loss of consortium, companionship, services and value
An attorney can help you calculate a fair amount to demand from an insurance company for your loved one’s wrongful death. Your lawyer can also negotiate with an insurance corporation for a just settlement. Most personal injury and wrongful death cases in Missouri reach settlements, meaning that filing a lawsuit and going to trial is generally not necessary.
Submit Your Lawsuit by the Deadline
If your wrongful death case does require a lawsuit to be filed in the civil courts, however, you must fill out the required paperwork and submit your petition to the courthouse in your county by the deadline. In Missouri, this time limit is three years from the date of the decedent’s death. Certain things may pause the deadline, however, such as the defendant facing criminal charges for his or her actions. Before you assume you’ve missed your deadline to sue for wrongful death in Missouri, contact a personal injury attorney in Kansas City for a case consultation.