In this article, we'll look at key aspects of Missouri law that affect a wrongful death lawsuit. We'll start with the definition of "wrongful death" in Missouri, and we'll also look at who can bring this kind of lawsuit to court, and what damages they may seek. Finally, we'll talk a bit about the time limits for filing a Missouri wrongful death lawsuit.
Defining Wrongful Death in Missouri
Missouri Revised Statutes section 537.080 defines a "wrongful death" as "the death of a person result[ing[ 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."
What does this mean? In short, a wrongful death claim is a claim for damages made against a person or company whose negligent or intentional actions cause the death of another person. It can be thought of as a personal injury claim in which the deceased person is no longer able to seek damages. Instead, the survivors of the deceased person must step in to seek damages on the deceased person's behalf, as well as to seek compensation for their own losses in relation to the untimely death.
Who May File a Missouri Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Missouri has specific rules regarding who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit in the state's civil courts. First in line to bring such a claim are the surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren. The parents of the deceased person may also bring a wrongful death claim. When the claim involves the death of a child, the parents are most often the individuals who file the claim.
If the deceased person has no surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, or parents, then a surviving sibling may bring the wrongful death case to court. If there are no surviving siblings, the personal representative of the deceased person's estate may bring the claim. If there is no personal representative, the court will appoint a "plaintiff ad litem" to file the claim. A plaintiff ad litem must be requested by a person "entitled to share in the proceeds" of a successful wrongful death claim.
Damages in a Missouri Wrongful Death Case
The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to seek compensation in the form of money damages. Damages may be available for a wide range of losses in a wrongful death case. Common types of losses for which damages may be available include:
- 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, and
- the "reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support" the deceased person provided to surviving family members.
In addition, damages may be available for the value of child care or elder care the deceased person provided. If the deceased person was not employed full-time and was involved in taking care of another family member at least fifty percent of the time, Missouri law creates a rebuttable presumption that the value of the care provided was worth 110 percent of the state's average weekly wage at the time the death occurred.
If the deceased was a child, the value of "lost wages" is based on the earnings of the child's parent. If both parents worked, their earnings are averaged.
Missouri also "caps," or limits, non-economic damages (such as those that are meant to compensate for pain and suffering) in medical malpractice cases that cause death. In these cases, non-economic damages are capped at $350,000, which is adjusted for inflation each year. "Economic" damages, like medical bills or lost wages, are not affected by the cap.
Time Limits for Filing a Missouri Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Missouri also has a time limit on the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit in court. In Missouri, a wrongful death claim must be filed within three years of the date of the decedent's death. If the case is not filed within three years, the court will likely refuse to hear it at all, and the family or personal representative will not be able to seek a civil remedy for the deceased person's death.