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What Does Wrongful Death Mean?

If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one because of an accident, you’re far from alone.

  • Did you know one American dies from an accident every 3 minutes? That’s a total of 466 lives lost every day!
  • Deaths from unintentional injuries reached their highest level in U.S. history in 2017. 

In response to these staggering numbers, the National Safety Council points out that “as a nation, we have not consistently prioritized safety at work, at home and on the road.”

All too often, these tragedies could have been avoided if it weren’t for the negligence of others. If your loved one’s death was caused by someone else’s intentional or negligent behavior, you may be eligible for wrongful death benefits.

But what does that mean? In this article, we’ll review what wrongful death means in the state of Missouri, who may file a wrongful death lawsuit, what damages may be available, and how to prove your case.

Always talk to a qualified wrongful death attorney about filing a lawsuit. The attorneys at Eng & Woods are available for a free consultation and to answer any questions you have.

Wrongful Death in Missouri

Missouri Revised Statutes 537.080 defines wrongful death as a death that “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….”

In plain English, a wrongful death lawsuit is a claim for damages in which the defendant’s actions caused the death of another person. A wrongful death claim may be filed against a person or company. 

Wrongful death is similar to personal injury law, except that the injured person is unable to seek damages because he or she is deceased. In such cases, survivors of the deceased may recover damages on their loved one’s behalf. Survivors may also seek fair compensation for their own losses stemming from the death. 

Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The following parties may bring a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • First in line are the surviving spouse, children, grandchildren or parents of the deceased.
  • Next in line would be a surviving sibling, in cases where the deceased has no spouse, children, grandchildren or living parents. 
  • If there is no surviving brother or sister, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate may file the lawsuit.
  • Finally, if there is no personal representative, the court appoints a “plaintiff ad litem.” The plaintiff ad litem must be requested by a person entitled to share in the proceeds from the lawsuit.

What Wrongful Death Damages Are Available?

Damages for wrongful death may include compensation for expenses related to your loved one’s death, as well as losses experienced by survivors.

Common losses for which damages are available include: 

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical bills incurred from your loved one’s injury or illness
  • Wages and benefits your loved one would have likely earned had they lived
  • Pain and suffering your loved one experienced prior to their death
  • The value of “services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training and support” the deceased provided to you and other survivors

Other damages may vary based on the unique circumstances of your case. 

  • The value of childcare or elder care that your loved one provided to others
  • If the deceased was not employed full time and caring for a family member at least 50% of the time, you may recover what is called a “rebuttable presumption of value.” Under Missouri law, the value of care your loved one provided is calculated as 110% of the state’s average weekly wage at the time of death.
  • If deceased was a child, lost wages are calculated based on the surviving parents’ wages. 

Also, be aware that Missouri places a statute of limitations on wrongful death cases. To receive compensation, you must file your lawsuit within 3 years of your loved one’s death. 

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?

Your wrongful death attorney will gather the evidence needed to prove to a court that you are entitled to wrongful death benefits. In order to win your case, three basic facts must be established: duty of care, breach of duty of care and causation.

  • Duty of care means that the defendant had a duty to keep your loved one safe. It also means they had a duty to refrain from behaviors that created unsafe conditions. Examples include a duty to obey traffic laws, or to correct hazardous conditions on the defendant’s property. 
  • Breach of duty of care means that the defendant’s behavior created a safety hazard for your loved one. For example, if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of a car accident, that would constitute breach of duty of care.  
  • Causation means that the defendant’s breach of duty directly caused your loved one’s death. On this question, the court will consider whether other factors played a role. 
    • For example, was your loved one also acting in a reckless manner at the time of the accident? Did he or she have a preexisting injury or illness? 
    • To decide whether you qualify for damages, the court will determine what “share” of the death resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty, and what share was caused by other factors.

If you’re not sure what to do following the accidental death of a loved one, please contact Eng & Woods for a free consultation. We’ll answer your questions and help you recover the compensation you deserve.

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  • Columbia Office
    903 E. Ash Street
    Columbia, Missouri 65201
    Phone: 573-874-4190
    Fax: 573-874-4192
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