The Kansas City wrongful death attorneys at Dickerson Oxton, LLC understand that the loss of a loved one can be the hardest and most painful thing a family may experience. Often, even long after the life is lost, there still exists extensive emotional pain and suffering. When a person dies as a result of the negligent actions of another, then this pain can be all the more severe.
Surviving family members of those who fall victim to a wrongful death lose more than just a person; they’re losing a leader, a person to confide in, and a person to look to for guidance. These aspects can never be replaced as the surviving family members are left with a life devoid of future relations with the deceased. Seeking a claim of wrongful death against those responsible may be the only way to alleviate any of the suffering.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim is filed by surviving loved ones when someone is killed as a result of the negligence of another person. A wrongful death lawsuit is not a criminal proceeding; you cannot request jail time as part of the lawsuit. Rather, it seeks to hold the responsible party or parties accountable by awarding monetary damages. These damages can range from covering medical and funeral expenses to compensatory and punitive damages.
All 50 states in the U.S. have wrongful death laws, but that wasn’t always the case. Before wrongful death law was adopted, these cases were ruled by Common law and negligence died with the victim; leaving survivors no recourse to recover compensation for the loss of their loved one.
While laws vary from state to state, survivors must typically show several things when filing a wrongful death claim.
- The party (or parties) being sued caused the death – whether completely or in part – of the victim.
- Those same parties were either negligent when they caused the death, or are responsible as a matter of law (strict liability).
- Survivors are present. I.E. The victim’s spouse, dependents and/or beneficiaries are alive.
- The death has caused monetary losses, for which the suit seeks to claim compensation.
Wrongful Death Statistics
Pinning the exact amount of deaths that a result of another person’s negligence is difficult. Often these are cases that take careful research and a whole lot of work to prove the link. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 136,000 people die from injuries sustained in an accident every year and. while not every one of them qualifies as a wrongful death, many happen as a result of another party’s reckless actions.
U.S. Deaths Due to Unintentional Injury 1994-2014
One of the most common reasons for wrongful death lawsuits are automobile crashes. There are close to 34,000 traffic deaths every year, and there is perhaps no other activity that puts people at the mercy of the behavior of others than driving a car. However, advances in automobile safety and safe driving campaigns have contributed to lower the fatality rate for motor vehicle-related accidents by more than half since 1950; from 24.4 per 100k to 11.1 in 2014. At the same time, while down from 1950, the overall rate of deaths due to unintentional injury has been rising nearly every year since 1990. Deaths do to poisoning are a big driver of this change, up from 2.4 per 100k in 1950 to 14.8 in 2014.
Estimates vary depending on the study, but as many as 98,000 people die every year due to medical malpractice. A misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, surgical errors, and improper care all fall under the umbrella of medical malpractice. The most common defendants in such cases were obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN, 19 percent) general surgeons (17 percent) and primary care physicians (16 percent). It is possible to sue the hospital as a whole, rather than just the doctor, in a medical malpractice claim.
Slip and falls and workplace accidents are the next most common causes of wrongful death. In both cases, a wrongful death claim is usually filed due to the failure by the property owner or company to foresee potential dangers. For example, if an elevated walkway was unguarded, stairs were faulty or there were a lack of safety signs, these contributed to the accident. While there was no direct action by the other person causing the death, their failure to preserve safety makes the property owner liable.
ROOT CAUSES OF WRONGFUL DEATH IN KANSAS CITY, MO
As with personal injury, there are many different sources of Kansas City wrongful death. Negligence needs to be established in a claim of wrongful death. By definition, negligence is a behavior or act that is culpable in that it falls short of what a reasonable person would or would not do in a given situation. Wrongful death cases fall into tort law, or civil wrongs done to one by a negligent person. Some common root causes for wrongful deaths in Kansas City, MO include:
- Automobile, motorcycle, or truck accidents – the negligent actions of another driver – speeding, driving under the influence or inattentiveness – which contribute to death are grounds for a wrongful death claim.
- Faulty or defective products – A company would have to be aware of the dangers of the product before releasing it to the public. If that can be proven, a wrongful death claim would likely be successful.
- Medical malpractice – When a surgeon, anesthesiologist or physician makes an avoidable mistake or is negligent in their care, and these actions directly contributed to a patient’s death, the patient’s family can file a wrongful death claim.
- Slip and falls – When someone is on the premises of another person’s property, you have a reasonable expectation of safety. If a fault in their property contributed to someone’s death, their family could file a wrongful death claim against the owner.
- Boating accidents – If the driver of the boat was traveling at an unsafe speed or any other negligent action caused someone’s death, the decedent’s family can file a claim.
- Job or construction accidents – The company is required to keep the workplace as safe as possible for their employees. If failing to fix faulty equipment or if a third party (one employee running over another in their truck, for example) was responsible for the worker’s death, a claim can be filed.
- Pharmaceutical or drug-related negligence – Improper or failing to give instructions related to use of medicine and prescriptions is grounds for a claim.
- Nursing home abuse – Common forms of abuse are failing to provide food or water, not turning them to avoid bedsores or sexual abuse. Any one of these is grounds for a claim if the action contributed directly to their death.
- Catastrophic injuries and accidents – A person acting in a negligent or irresponsible way would be liable if those actions caused the death of another person.
NEGLIGENCE AND DAMAGES
When the negligent actions of another cause a person’s life to be cut short in Kansas City, then the victim is said to have had a wrongful death. While each of the surviving family members of the decedent can each file an individual claim of wrongful death, typically the family as a whole is represented by a single Kansas City wrongful death attorney. In the event that there are no family members left, the estate of the decedent can bring forth a case to receive compensation. Those pursuing a claim of wrongful death in Kansas City seek compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Funeral and burial costs
- Lost wages of the decedent
- Lost future gains of the decedent
- Damages for emotional pain and suffering
- Damages for loss of love, companionship, support, and leadership
- Loss of benefits provided by the decedent
There is no limit to the amount of pecuniary damages – such as medical expenses, funeral costs and lost wages – which can be recovered. One of these pecuniary damages is the potential loss of tuition for a child who hasn’t yet finished high school. Damages sought in this regard will be carefully considered in a wrongful death claim, taking into account the child’s loss of education with the parent no longer there.
In Kansas, the cap on non-pecuniary damages – such as loss of consortium, suffering or loss of guidance – is $250,000. In Missouri, it’s $350,000, which was recently upheld by the state Supreme Court in case which saw non-pecuniary damages reduced to that amount from the $9 million the jury originally awarded.
In Missouri, damages can be sought for the value of care that the deceased person provided. For example, if the person was a stay-at-home mother who did not work full-time and spent at least 50 percent of her day taking care of the children, Missouri law stipulates that care is worth 110 percent of the state’s average weekly wage. Kansas accounts for these losses as well, but a specific dollar amount is not defined.
Who Is Allowed To File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In Kansas and Missouri, the surviving spouse, children or grandchildren are usually the one’s who file the lawsuit. If there is no spouse or children, then a sibling can file for wrongful death. A survival lawsuit may also be brought by a representative of the decedent’s estate, should there be no family member’s or dependent’s to do so. A suit cannot be filed by a friend or distant family member, anyone who cannot demonstrate pecuniary loss by the person’s death. However, in Missouri, if no family member or representative comes forward, the court can appoint a “plaintiff ad litem.” This designation applies to a person “entitled to share in the proceeds” of a wrongful death claim.
The statute of limitations to bring a wrongful death claim is two and three years from the date of the person’s death, in Kansas and Missouri respectively. There are some exceptions to this, one being that it does not apply to a minor. The limitations clock does not start ticking until the child turns eighteen. However, if the surviving spouse were to file on behalf of the family, then the child would receive benefits until they turned eighteen.
Wrongful Death Claim Against a Government Agency
Otherwise known as sovereign immunity, a wrongful death claim can only be brought against federal and state government agencies in certain circumstances. Every state’s law is a little different in terms of exceptions and damage caps, and in Missouri:
- Claims must be brought to the Commissioner of Administration within two years.
- Injuries or death resulting from State employee’s negligent act or omission while operating a motor vehicle within the scope of employment, injuries caused by the dangerous condition of a State-owned property and contract claims are the only instances in which actions are allowed.
- The compensation limit is $2,734,567 for all claims arising out of a single occurrence, and $410,185 for one person in a single occurrence.
In Kansas, the laws are:
- There is no deadline to file the claim.
- Government agencies are liable for damages caused by a negligent act of any of its employees while acting within the scope of employment under circumstances where a private person would be liable.
- State’s liability shall not exceed $500,000 for claims arising out of a single occurrence or accident.
There are a host of exceptions for which a government agency cannot be held liable. The destruction or unauthorized removal of a road sign by a non-government person, snow or ice conditions, and road maintenance are just a few examples. Sovereign immunity protects state agencies from wrongful death claims for things which they may have had little or no ability to prevent.
Wrongful Death vs. Survivorship
In general, a wrongful death claim compensates the individuals of the decedent; a survivor claim compensates the decedent’s estate. Damages for pain and suffering can be sought if the decedent did not die immediately after the accident. If they survived for a period of time and incurred medical expenses, ambulance costs and/or loss of earnings, compensation for those damages would be sought in a survivorship claim.
Damages incurred following a person’s death, such as funeral expenses, would be brought forth in a wrongful death claim. A survivor claim can only be filed if the person lived for a period of time before passing as a direct result of the incident. These separate claims give the surviving family a chance to be compensated for all expenses, lost wages and missed productivity that occurred before their death but after the accident.
Seek Justice | CALL A KANSAS CITY WRONGFUL DEATH ATTORNEY TODAY
Wrongful death accidents present surviving family members with an incredible loss. Love, companionship, and guidance can never be replaced after a loved one is tragically taken. Courts today can only offer financial settlements to those surviving from the negligent party. While this compensation certainly won’t completely ease the pain you are experiencing, it can alleviate some of the costs and losses that you have suffered. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligent actions of another, contact an experienced Kansas City wrongful death attorney at Dickerson Oxton, LLC as soon as possible. Our compassionate attorneys are standing by to help you during this difficult time.
You can reach one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys at (913) 428-8220. Alternatively, you can fill out our free case evaluation form on our website and we will get back to you promptly.