The death of a family member is always a tragic experience. When a death is the result of negligence, the family of the victim has the right under Missouri law to hold the negligent party responsible. Unlike most claims for personal injuries which are premised on the common law duty to act reasonably, a claim for wrongful death is governed by Missouri Statute. For this file Click Here.
Legal elements of a Missouri wrongful death case
The Missouri wrongful death law specifies that a person or company is liable for the death of a person if it would have been liable for the personal injuries of that person had the accident or other event not resulted in death. This law applies to deaths caused by car wrecks, tractor-trailer crashes, and motor vehicle accidents, among others. The law further describes who may bring an action for wrongful death. The spouse, child, or parent of the deceased person may file the wrongful death case. If the victim was not survived by a spouse, child, or spouse then a sibling (or if not living, niece or nephew) may file the case.
Accordingly, to succeed in a wrongful death case, in most circumstances a victims family will need to prove:
- that the plaintiff who filed the case is related to the victim as required by statute;
- that the defendant acted negligently, which is to say that it acted unreasonably; and
- that the victims death was the result of the defendants negligence.
Though the wrongful death action may be brought by any individual qualifying family member, the plaintiff will be deemed to represent all qualifying family members.
How do Missouri courts quantify damages in a wrongful death case?
In a wrongful death case, like any other civil case, it becomes necessary to request a jury to place a dollar figure on the loss suffered by the plaintiff. In a wrongful death case, the family of the victim is entitled to the reasonable value of the loss they have suffered. The Wrongful Death Act instructs that the factors to be considered in establishing the amount of damages include:
- the pecuniary losses suffered by reason of the death;
- funeral expenses;
- the value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support that the family members would have received had the wrongful death not occurred; and
- an amount sufficient to for the pain and suffering experienced by the victim between the time of the injury and his death.
Though the categories of damages are broad, Missouri law does not permit the families of a wrongful death victim to receive damages for the grief and bereavement they experienced. This rule is premised on the notion that the grief experienced as the result of losing a loved one will inevitably be experienced even if the death is the result of natural causes.
In addition to the above-described categories of damages, a jury may award additional damages for what the law described as aggravating circumstances which courts have construed as being similar to punitive damages. Punitive damages are generally set at the amount necessary to punish the wrongdoer for the conduct the led to the death and deter others from acting similarly.
After the damages have been determined either by a jury or as a result of a settlement a Missouri court must apportion the damages among the family members.
The role of an attorney in a wrongful death suit
If you have lost a family member as the result of negligence, a Missouri personal injury attorney can assist you in identifying whether the requirements under Missouri law for a wrongful death case are present. A wrongful death lawyer can also identify and quantify the various categories of damages that the wrongful death law requires to be considered. The Columbia Missouri law firm Lear Werts routinely handle Missouri wrongful death lawsuits including those arising from car crashes, truck crashes, or otherwise and have the skill and experience necessary to protect the rights of your family and obtain fair compensation occasioned by your loss.
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