What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Missouri?
February 8, 2022 | Wrongful Death
Losing a loved one to someone else’s negligence is tragic, and there is nothing that the law can do to make it less so. While nothing can bring your loved one back to you, obtaining the compensation you deserve can help you and your family make the long, difficult journey toward healing.
Wrongful death claims are exceptionally complicated legal matters, with legal rules and restrictions. These rules include the statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time you have to bring your wrongful death claim.
If you’ve lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence, the best path forward is with a Missouri wrongful death attorney on your side.
The Missouri Wrongful Death Statute
The Missouri wrongful death statute defines wrongful death as a situation where, if the victim had lived, they could have recovered compensation. Generally, this means that survivors can file wrongful death claims against those people or entities whose negligence (or worse) causes someone else to lose their life.
If the decedent (the person who lost their life) could have brought a personal injury claim against the at-fault party if they had survived, a wrongful death claim is in order. As a result, all the types of accidents that frequently lead to personal injury claims are also closely associated with wrongful death claims, including traffic accidents of every kind.
The Statute of Limitations
The Missouri wrongful death statute of limitations is generally three years from the date that your loved one succumbed to their injuries. Importantly, this is not necessarily the date when they sustained the injuries).
While three years may seem like ample time to address this important matter, the truth is that the shock of losing your loved one and the challenges that come along with this tragic loss can leave you in no condition to handle a wrongful death claim.
As a result, people in your situation may suddenly realize that three years passed before they’ve had the time, the wherewithal, or the emotional capacity to file a wrongful death claim. If you’ve lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence, reaching out to an experienced Missouri wrongful death attorney sooner rather than later is always in your best interest.
Filing the Wrongful Death Claim
Every state has exacting rules about who can bring a wrongful death claim, and Missouri is no different.
In Missouri, these survivors of the decedent have the legal right to bring wrongful death claims:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- The decedent’s surviving children (or the children’s descendants if the children are no longer living)
- The decedent’s surviving parents
If the decedent has no such surviving family members, a surviving sibling (or a descendant of a surviving sibling) may bring the wrongful death claim. If all of these categories are exhausted, one of the decedent’s next of kin (who is entitled to share in the proceeds from the claim) can request that the court appoint what is known as a plaintiff ad litem who will handle the wrongful death claim and who may be the next of kin.
Wrongful Death Claims vs. Criminal Charges
Wrongful death claims are civil claims, which means that the liability of the at-fault parties results in financial compensation for the losses of the decedents. However, the same reckless or intentional actions that lead to wrongful death claims can also lead to criminal charges. Unlike wrongful death claims brought by surviving family members, the state brings criminal charges, and a conviction can lead to prison time, probation, and financial penalties.
In a criminal trial, the state must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, an exceptionally high legal standard. In a wrongful death case, however which is a civil case the plaintiffs must only prove the defendant’s liability by a preponderance of the evidence.
This rule means that the evidence must demonstrate that the defendant’s liability is more likely than not. The defendant in your wrongful death case can also face criminal charges, and the cases can run concurrently. In some cases, a criminal conviction for the same event that resulted in the loss of your loved one will make your civil claim simpler.
The Damages Sought
The damages or losses you will seek in your wrongful death claim will address the losses you and your loved one experienced, including:
- The cost of their funeral and burial
- The medical bills they incurred from the time of injury to the time of death
- The value of the wages, earnings, and benefits your loved one would have reasonably earned if they survived
- The physical and emotional pain and suffering your loved one experienced from the time of injury to the time of death
- The reasonable value associated with the services, consortium (familial relationships), companionship, comfort, counsel, guidance, support, and training your loved one would have provided had they lived.
Keep in mind that the insurance company handling your claim will do everything it can to pay you as little as possible. Talk to an attorney before signing any paperwork or accepting anything of value from the at-fault party or their insurance company.
FAQs About Wrongful Death in Missouri
If you’ve lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence, you almost certainly have a good number of questions to ask. The material below answers some of the more common questions attorneys hear regarding wrongful death claims in Missouri.
How Long Should I Wait Before Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?
While the law gives you three years to file a wrongful death claim, the reality is that you should talk to an attorney and start the claims process as soon as possible. If you wait, it could hurt your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.
First of all, waiting to start your claim can risk the loss of evidence that you will need to prove that the other party was liable for the loss of your loved one. For example, witnesses’ memories can fade, and records can be lost or misplaced. Fortunately, an attorney can protect any evidence relevant to your claim.
In addition to issues regarding evidence, waiting to retain an attorney can run the risk of your doing or saying something that could potentially hurt your claim. Insurance companies often engage in tactics designed to get claimants to say things that they can use to justify making lower settlement offers or denying claims altogether.
Once you have a lawyer, however, they will handle all communication with the insurance company for you. As a result, the sooner you retain an attorney, the sooner your rights will be protected.
Will my wrongful death claim go to court?
If you are concerned about going to court, you should rest assured that you are not alone. You’ve lost a loved one, and going to court on the heels of this very difficult situation can feel like adding insult to injury. The good news is that many such claims settle out of court, and yours will likely do the same. However, your claim is utterly unique, and there is no way to know how your case will conclude.
A wrongful death attorney will help you make the best decisions for you and your claim, including whether or not you should move forward with filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Can I handle the wrongful death claim on my own?
While it is generally not a good idea to handle legal matters on your own, this is even more true regarding wrongful death claims. Wrongful death claims are complicated and subject to complicated procedural and substantive rules.
When you couple this with the fact that the stakes are high and that you’re in about as vulnerable a position as you possibly can be, it helps to highlight just how important having a skilled wrongful death attorney in your corner is.
Your wrongful death lawyer will ably:
- Put together your strongest claim by compiling all the relevant evidence, including eyewitness statements
- Help you understand the claims process and how your claim is likely to be resolved
- Hire expert witnesses in support of your claim’s veracity
- Guide your claim toward its best possible outcome and help you make the difficult choices along the way, such as whether or not you should move forward with a lawsuit
- Communicate with the insurance company on your behalf and skillfully negotiate with the insurance company on behalf of your wrongful death claim’s fair settlement
- If necessary, file a lawsuit on your behalf and represent you in court.
Can I afford a wrongful death attorney?
The benefits of having a dedicated wrongful death attorney on your side can far outweigh the cost. The fact is that professional legal counsel can greatly improve your ability to obtain just compensation, and fortunately, none of the financial risk is on you.
Reputable wrongful death attorneys generally work on contingency, which means that your wrongful death attorney won’t get paid unless your claim prevails with either a settlement or court award. Your attorney’s pay is contingent upon or based upon your claim’s ultimate worth. This means that your wrongful death lawyer will receive a predetermined percentage of your total compensation. If you receive no settlement or court award, you won’t owe your attorney anything.
How does the insurance company factor in?
Wrongful death claims based on traffic accidents of any kind, premises liability claims, product liability claims, medical malpractice claims, nursing home negligence claims, or workers’ compensation claims generally go through the at-fault party’s insurance company.
However, the insurance company is in the business of making money, which means it’s going to do what it can to limit your settlement.
In its efforts to do so, it may employ any number of less-than-fair practices:
- The insurance company may attempt to deny your claim outright knowing that you may be too overwhelmed to fight back. The insurance company’s denial of your claim is not the final say on the matter the court is so don’t let its bullying influence you.
- The insurance company may offer you a settlement offer early on, and while this may seem like a real gift at the time, it probably won’t address all your claim’s losses. This tactic is the insurance company’s way of taking advantage of your vulnerability.
- The insurance company may do what it can to artificially complicate or protract the claims process hoping that you will give up along the way. The truth of the matter is that wrongful death claims are plenty complicated enough on their own. There are laws against such practices, and your wrongful death lawyer will help hold the insurance company to them.
- Another common insurance company ploy is to deny the extent of claimants’ losses. Your wrongful death attorney will ensure that the evidence supporting your claim is tight and won’t back down in their efforts to defend your rights to pursue your rightful compensation.
Turn to an Experienced Missouri Wrongful Death Lawyer for the Legal Help You Need
Losing a loved one to someone else’s negligence is exceptionally difficult, and while just compensation can’t right the wrongs you’ve suffered, it can help you move forward.
A compassionate Missouri wrongful death lawyer will recognize the gravity of your situation and is standing by to focus their impressive experience and legal insight into skillfully pursuing your claim’s most beneficial outcome. Reach out today for the support and legal representation you need.