In Missouri, the law does not permit just anyone who knew the deceased to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Surviving spouses, children, and grandchildren can file a lawsuit. So too can the parents of the deceased (e.g., in cases involving the death of a child). Siblings can file a lawsuit only if the deceased has no surviving parents, spouse, children, or grandchildren.

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?

To bring a wrongful death suit to court, the following components must be established:

  • The person has passed away.
  • The cause of death is directly tied to another person’s negligence or harmful intent.
  • The monetary suffering of the decedent’s family members was caused by the death.
  • A personal representative was appointed for the decedent’s estate.

A family may file a suit against any number of individuals, including, but not limited to, faulty equipment manufacturers, bartenders and owners, transportation representatives, building contractors, physicians, and pilots and drivers. The number of reasons a person may file for wrongful death is various, and navigating the complex statutes surrounding wrongful death suits requires the expertise of a skilled attorney. Laws on wrongful death vary state by state, and the experience of an attorney who understands your state laws is vital.

Common wrongful death cases include:

  • Car accidents
  • Product liability
  • Train accidents
  • Boat accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Premises liability
  • Medical malpractice

What Type of Compensation Can I Claim in a Wrongful Death Case?

When a family member dies, the process of settling his or her affairs can be time-consuming and emotional. Even under normal circumstances, death is tragic and difficult to process. When a wrongful death suit is filed, however, surviving family members may be facing a significant loss of income for funeral expenses and lingering medical expenses. Children may suffer the emotional loss of a parent that will not be able to pass on his/her skills and knowledge.

A few of the common financial damages that are awarded include coverage for income loss, funeral expenses, medical expenses, and loss of parental guidance. Survivors will also accrue interest from the time of death until a settlement is reached. In cases in which the cause of death has been proven to be the willful or malicious act of another, punitive damages may be awarded. This monetary compensation is pure punishment for the defendant, and laws on punitive damages vary by state. In Missouri, the cap on punitive damages is $500,000, or five times the total amount of other damages awarded.

Recovering Damages

When someone wrongfully dies from another person’s negligence or intentional act, the surviving family members may seek the help of the law. A death in the family can take an emotional and financial toll on the survivors. Family members often want to understand the details of such a tragic event. A personal injury lawsuit can not only help family members find closure, but it can also help protect against future accidents, ensuring no one else will suffer the same loss.

A wrongful death lawsuit can provide survivors with a sense of closure and peace of mind. It can also provide relief from the financial strain of medical costs and the lost future income of the deceased. If a loved one has suffered from another person’s negligence or intentional act, you may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. A lawsuit can repair the loss, but it can help struggling families during this stressful time.

Pecuniary Damages

Pecuniary damages are similar to those the court would have awarded the deceased had he or she lived to file a personal injury claim. These damages are the economic losses the victims and their families incurred from the time of the accident to the time of death. For example, if someone had a car accident and required hospitalization for a week before passing away from his or her injuries, pecuniary damages would pay for the medical bills, lost wages, and funeral costs.

Lost wages may include the value of wages the deceased likely would have earned if he or she had not died. If the deceased person is a child, the courts value “lost wage” damages by averaging the earnings of the child’s parents. Pecuniary damages may reimburse the survivors for the value of household services the deceased ordinarily performed. The family may also recover the cost to repair or replace property damaged from the accident – such as a totaled vehicle in a car accident.

Non-Pecuniary Damages

Missouri law does not cap pecuniary damages that are economic losses, but it does limit non-economic losses. The current cap for non-economic damages in a wrongful death case in Missouri is $350,000. One cannot readily value non-pecuniary damages. The amount depends greatly on the circumstances of the accident and the state of the family the deceased person left behind. These damages are non-tangible and may include:

• Bereavement of the loss, including mental anguish and pain, and suffering
• Loss of care, comfort, society, and protection
• Loss of counsel, such as marital care, advice, and attention
• Loss of parental advice, education, guidance, and care
• Loss of filial affection and care
• Loss of consortium

“Loss of consortium” describes the losses a survivor suffers after the death of a spouse or immediate family member. These losses can include sexual relationships, love, and companionship.

Time Restrictions for Filing Wrongful Death Claims in Missouri

Every state uses a different statute of limitations, or time limit, for different types of civil claims. In Missouri, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is three years, starting on the date of the death in question. If a claimant fails to start a wrongful death claim within this three-year window, the court will likely refuse to hear it since the deadline has passed. However, there are some factors that may “toll” or delay the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim.

When a person dies, the cause of death isn’t always immediately clear. The investigation into a person’s sudden death may take months or even longer. In the meantime, the surviving family may simply believe that their relative passed away from unknown natural causes. If an initial autopsy is inconclusive and the cause of death is difficult to determine at first, the surviving family may be unaware of the grounds for a wrongful death claim. Additionally, if an individual responsible for a wrongful death knowingly commits fraud or otherwise attempts to conceal his or her involvement in the death in question, this can understandably delay an investigation.

In either situation, when the cause of death is not immediately determinable or the party responsible for a wrongful death attempts to hide his or her liability in any way, the statute of limitations would hold to the discovery rule and begin on the date the surviving family discovered the wrongful death.

For example, an older person suddenly dies from a heart attack. The family simply assumes it was a natural occurrence, but upon discovering old medical files a few years later, the family learns the deceased’s doctor prescribed a medication known to increase the risk of a heart attack in individuals matching the deceased’s health condition.

The family then discovers that the doctor deleted the records pertaining to this prescription. In this situation, it is possible for the family to pursue a wrongful death claim against that provider, even if the statute of limitations following the death in question has already passed. The statute would instead begin on the date the family discovered this new information related to the cause of their loved one’s untimely death.

To find out if you have passed your file deadline, speak to a wrongful death attorney in Kansas City immediately.

Does Insurance Cover Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim is functionally similar to any other personal injury claim, except the victim does not survive his or her injuries or illness caused by the defendant in the claim. Just like a personal injury claim, if the at-fault party carries relevant liability insurance, it is technically possible for his or her insurance policy to cover the damages in the wrongful death claim if he or she has enough available coverage.

Regardless of the at-fault party’s coverage limit, most wrongful death settlements come from insurance companies covering at-fault parties. However, they only pay out up to the limits of the applicable coverage. For example, a negligent driver is liable for wrongful death and the jury awards $1 million to the claimant. However, the at-fault driver’s liability coverage is only $100,000. The at-fault driver would then be personally responsible for the other $900,000 that insurance will not cover.

In wrongful death claims against large businesses and companies, defendants typically carry extensive liability insurance so they can quickly and quietly handle wrongful death claims as they arise by settling instead of contending with potential costs of litigation. Average private citizens generally only carry the insurance they need, and coverage limits rarely measure up to the full value of a wrongful death claim.

Despite the fact that a defendant’s insurance policy may not provide enough coverage for the total damages in a wrongful death claim, reaching an insurance settlement is sometimes the best option for the claimant. For example, if negligence is easy to prove, then it would be in the claimant’s best interests to pursue a lawsuit instead of an insurance settlement for the most compensation possible. If negligence is more difficult to determine, an at-fault party like a large corporation may be willing to settle just to avoid the potential litigation costs and damage to their public reputation a high-profile lawsuit would cause.

Has Your Loved One Died Due To The Negligence Of Others In A Kansas City, Missouri?

If your loved one died due to the negligence of others you should speak with an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. Please feel free to contact us online or call our office directly at 816.832.4688 to schedule your free consultation. We are proud to serve Kansas City, Missouri and the surrounding area and look forward to speaking with you.