What Is Wrongful Death?
December 29, 2021 | Wrongful Death
In some accidents, a person unfortunately dies. When that happens, the decedent’s surviving family members might pursue a wrongful death insurance claim or a lawsuit in the court system. When the claim succeeds, the surviving individuals can recover various types of compensation.
Although money can never truly replace the loss of a loved one, it can bring about a sense of justice and closure following a serious accident or occurrence that never should have happened in the first place.
After losing a loved one, aggrieved family members may not know where to turn next. If you lost a loved one in an accident that occurred because of someone else’s wrongful act, a compassionate wrongful death attorney can help to assess and protect your legal rights.
Your lawyer can review the circumstances of the fatal accident with you and determine your eligibility for bringing a wrongful death claim or for filing a lawsuit in the court system. If you can file a claim/lawsuit, your attorney can handle all of the necessary steps and work to get you and your family the compensation and justice that you need following your loved one’s untimely death.
Defining Wrongful Death in Missouri
Wrongful death has a very precise meaning under Missouri law. Wrongful death happens when another individual commits a negligent or intentional act, transaction, or occurrence. If the occurrence had not happened, the individual would still be alive. One common type of wrongful death accident occurs when an intoxicated motor vehicle operator causes their vehicle to collide with another vehicle head-on, resulting in one or more fatalities.
A surviving individual can file a wrongful death claim against a person or company. In the context of a motor vehicle accident, for example, the surviving family member can bring a wrongful death claim against the intoxicated driver (and/or against the driver’s employer if the driver crashed the vehicle while on the job).
In addition to car accidents, wrongful death claims in Missouri can arise out of intentional acts, including crimes, as well as incidents of medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, behaves unreasonably under the circumstances. For instance, the doctor might perform the wrong operation on a person or leave a surgical instrument inside the patient’s body after the operation, requiring follow-up medical procedures and dealing with complications.
If someone you love died in an accident that another person’s negligence caused, you may file a wrongful death claim in Missouri. An experienced wrongful death attorney can review your circumstances and determine your eligibility for filing a claim. Your attorney will then work to get you the monetary compensation that you need.
Difference Between Civil Wrongful Death and Criminal Homicide in Drunk Driving Accident Cases
In a wrongful death case that a surviving individual files in Missouri, the measure of the at-fault person’s liability is the damages that an insurance company or court awards. However, for a defendant in a criminal case to receive a penalty, the judge or jury must first find that the at-fault person is guilty of the underlying criminal offense. Once that happens, a court can impose penalties that may include fines, jail time, or probation.
In addition, the legal standard and burden of proof are different in civil wrongful death cases versus criminal homicide cases. In a civil wrongful death case, the surviving family member who filed the claim only needs to demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the at-fault individual caused the decedent’s death. This burden of proof is much lower than in a criminal case. Specifically, in a criminal homicide case, the prosecutor or the state will need to demonstrate the accused individual’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard in the United States justice system on either the criminal or civil side. If the prosecutor fails to satisfy the legal burden in a case, a court can dismiss it.
Insurance companies are often very skeptical in civil wrongful death cases. This is because the deceased individual is no longer alive and obviously cannot testify in court or talk about how the accident happened. In addition, the deceased individual cannot express firsthand the impact that the accident had on their life.
Consequently, if you are contemplating filing a Missouri wrongful death claim, you need knowledgeable legal counsel by your side every step of the way. A skilled wrongful death attorney can help you establish all of the legal elements of your claim and help you satisfy the burden of proof in your case. That way, you may recover damages in your case.
Eligibility for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri
Certain individuals may file wrongful death claims and lawsuits in Missouri. The first group of individuals who can bring a wrongful death claim following an accident victim’s death is the deceased individual’s parents, children, or spouse. If the deceased individual’s children have also died, the descendants of the children can bring a wrongful death claim or file a lawsuit in the court system.
If no one from these categories survives the deceased individual, a sibling, or the sibling’s descendants might file a wrongful death claim. If none of these individuals survives the decedent’s death, a Missouri court can appoint a plaintiff ad litem to oversee and handle all aspects of the wrongful death claim. A person entitled to share in the wrongful death claim proceeds must specifically request a plaintiff ad litem.
Determining who is eligible to file a wrongful death claim can sometimes be difficult, and the Missouri statutes on the subject can be difficult to decipher and comprehend. A knowledgeable St. Louis wrongful death attorney near you can help you determine if you or someone in your family is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Your attorney can then assist you with setting up the claim, and if necessary, with filing a lawsuit in the court system to get you wrongful death damages.
Steps for Filing a Wrongful Death Damage Claim
When filing a wrongful death claim, an attorney will typically gather the necessary documentation and submit it to the insurance company in a demand package. The demand package will include a settlement letter that makes a monetary demand for settlement. In addition, the demand package will include pertinent pieces of evidence in the case, such as a copy of any police or incident report, witness statements, medical records, medical bills, photographs, and other documentation.
Once the insurance company receives and reviews all of this information, an adjuster may make an opening offer to settle the case. These opening offers are usually very low and do not compensate survivors for the full value of the claim. The insurance company makes initial offers very low to try and see if the plaintiff is in a hurry to resolve the case by way of settlement.
A St. Louis wrongful death attorney can negotiate on your behalf and work to get you the full value for your claim. If your attorney and the insurance company reach an impasse, your lawyer might need to file a lawsuit in the court system and litigate the case there. During litigation, the parties will typically exchange documents through a process known as discovery.
If the parties still cannot reach an agreement following discovery completion, they may try the case in the court system. If the matter goes to trial, a jury will decide the outcome of all disputed issues in the case. A knowledgeable attorney can represent you at all legal proceedings, including at trial, and will zealously advocate for your interests in hopes of getting you a favorable damage award.
The Deadline to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri
Just like with personal injury claims and lawsuits, a statute of limitations applies to wrongful death claims. Specifically, a surviving individual must bring a wrongful death claim or file a lawsuit within three years of the date on which the decedent passed away. The statute of limitations is extremely unforgiving. Consequently, if the surviving individual files a lawsuit even one day after the statute has expired, then wrongful death damages will not be available.
For this reason, speak immediately with a knowledgeable Missouri wrongful death attorney to see if you are eligible to file a claim. If you can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of your deceased loved one, your attorney can become involved right away, and if necessary, file a lawsuit to protect the statute from running. Your attorney can then work to pursue the wrongful death damages that you and your family need.
Potential Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death claimants may be eligible to pursue and recover various types of damages in their claim or lawsuit. Damages in a wrongful death case represent the deceased individual’s claimed losses. Moreover, the defendant’s insurance company must pay these damages directly to the surviving family members, or in some cases, to the deceased individual’s estate.
Types and amounts of damages in wrongful death claims depend on the circumstances surrounding the accident. Other factors include the extent and cost of medical treatment the decedent received before their death.
When a wrongful death case goes to trial, a jury will typically decide the amount of the damages to award the claimant or claimants. Factors that they will consider include the cost of the deceased individual’s funeral and burial, as well as the medical bills that the deceased individual incurred up until the time of their death. In addition, juries will consider the pain and suffering that the deceased individual experienced between the accident and when they died.
Juries can also look at the income that the decedent would have earned had they survived the accident. Finally, a jury may consider the reasonable value of comfort, counsel, guidance, training, companionship, and consortium that the deceased individual would provide to the family if they survived the occurrence.
A surviving family member can also pursue damages for the value of various services that the deceased individual might have provided, such as caregiving services. In Missouri wrongful death lawsuits, no universal damage cap applies. However, the cap that applies to medical malpractice damages may apply to a wrongful death lawsuit that arises when a healthcare provider, such as a doctor, commits a medical error or other negligent act.
One of the main reasons why you want a knowledgeable St. Louis wrongful death lawyer on your side throughout your claim is so the insurance company will take your claim seriously. If the insurance company sees that a wrongful death claimant is unrepresented, it is unlikely to offer you the full value of monetary damages that you should otherwise deserve.
A lawyer will negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf and work to get you the maximum amount of compensation that is available in your wrongful death case. Furthermore, if the insurance company becomes difficult and refuses to fully and fairly compensate you, your attorney can file a lawsuit and litigate your case to a conclusion. An attorney can represent you at all legal proceedings including at a jury trial.