Losing a loved one unexpectedly is always “wrong.” You may be shocked, confused, and even angry. You may need answers about the death and want justice for your tragic loss. However, your reaction to a death, isn't what determines whether the death is legally “wrongful.”
In order to sue for wrongful death, the circumstances have to meet certain criteria.
What Makes a Death “Wrongful?”
Generally, in order to eligible for a wrongful death lawsuit, the death must have been caused by the negligent or careless actions of another party. The Missouri state statute regarding wrongful death states:
Whenever the death of a person results from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction, or circumstance which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages in respect thereof, the person or party who, or the corporation which, would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable in an action for damages.
In other words, an accident that would have led to a personal injury lawsuit if the person had survived would be eligible for a wrongful death action if the victim dies. Examples of such situations include car and truck accidents, slip and fall accidents, and workplace accidents.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
The intent of wrongful death damages is to compensate people harmed by the death of the victim. Because of this, the plaintiff must show that a relationship with the deceased exists. In Missouri, the following people can sue for wrongful death:
- The spouse of the deceased
- Children, natural or adopted, legitimate or illegitimate, of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased, natural or adoptive
- If there are no parents, children, or spouse to bring the action, then a brother or sister of the deceased, or nieces and nephews, may file.
- A plaintiff ad litem, which is an individual not in the above categories, may be appointed by the court if there are no family members as described above.
What's the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and a Criminal Charge?
When a person dies at the hands of another, the justice system determines if a criminal charge is appropriate. Criminal charges for killing a person in Missouri include voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, first-degree murder, and second-degree murder. These charges are brought by the district attorney and could result in imprisonment or other criminal penalties against the person who committed the act.
A wrongful death action, on the other hand, is a civil charge brought by a surviving family member and is intended to punish the accused for breaking the civil code citizens owe each other. Civil charges typically lead to a monetary judgement against the accused. There's a lower burden of proof on a civil charge, so it's sometimes brought when a prosecutor fails to meet the burden of proof for a criminal charge as a way to hold the accused accountable for his or her actions.
What Damages Can Be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Action?
Monetary damages awarded for wrongful death claims differ from state to state. In Missouri, there is no cap on the recovery you can make, except in cases of medical malpractice. You may be awarded damages for the following:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills related to the deceased person's final injury or illness
- Value of wages and benefits the deceased would likely have earned if he or she had lived
- Pain and suffering experienced by the deceased just prior to death
- The "reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support" the deceased person provided to surviving family members.
Do I Need an Attorney to Pursue a Wrongful Death Action?
It can be confusing to understand what circumstances are deemed appropriate to file a wrongful death action and whether you are eligible to be the plaintiff in such a case. Working with a wrongful death attorney from the beginning of your case will ensure that you have a legitimate claim and that you file for all the damages for which you are eligible.
We're here for you if you suffered the tragic loss of a loved one due to the negligence of a person or business. Contact us online or call us directly at 888.348.2616.