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What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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What is a wrongful death lawsuit? When someone dies because of another person’s negligence or wrongful acts, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Through this type of legal claim, the surviving family members can pursue compensation for their losses. Read on to learn more.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of civil tort action that can be filed by surviving family members who have specific relationships with the deceased person. Under R.S.Mo. § 537.080, the following parties may file a wrongful death lawsuit in order of priority:

  • Surviving spouse, children, grandchildren of deceased children, or parents of the deceased person
  • If no one in the first priority group survives, the siblings or their descendants if the siblings are deceased
  • Plaintiff ad litem appointed by the court if no one in the first two classes of priority survives

Only one plaintiff may file a lawsuit against a defendant for wrongful death.

When Might a Wrongful Death Claim Apply?

Wrongful death claims might arise when the victim could have had grounds to file a personal injury claim against the negligent or wrongful actor if he or she had survived. Wrongful death claims might be filed after an intentional or negligent killing, a motor vehicle accident, a defective product accident, or in medical malpractice cases.

In intentional or negligent homicides, wrongful death claims can be filed even though the defendant might also be facing criminal prosecution for the same crimes. Since wrongful death lawsuits are civil claims, they operate under civil tort law instead of criminal law and have a lower burden of proof. This means it is possible to hold a defendant civilly liable even if he or she is found not guilty in a corresponding criminal case. A famous example of how this can work occurred with O.J. Simpson. While he was acquitted of murder in his criminal case, the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman prevailed on their wrongful death lawsuits against him.

Many wrongful death lawsuits originate from motor vehicle accidents. In these cases, negligence is typically the primary cause of action. Some examples of negligence that might result in a fatal accident include drunk driving, running stop signs or traffic lights, speeding, or reckless driving.

When Must a Wrongful Death Claim Be Filed?

All states have statutes of limitations for different types of legal actions. In Missouri, the wrongful death statute of limitation is found at R.S.Mo. § 537.100. Under this statute, you must file a wrongful death claim no later than three years after the death of your loved one. However, the time period for filing a claim might be extended if you did not discover the cause of your loved one’s death until later. For example, if you did not discover and reasonably could not have discovered that your loved one’s death was caused by a doctor’s medical malpractice until some time after his or her death, the limitation period might be tolled until the date of discovery. Your lawyer can help you understand how the statute of limitations might apply in your case.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The types of damages that might be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit will largely be compensatory. Under R.S.Mo. § 537.090, the following types of damages might be recoverable:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of the income the deceased person might have earned during his or her life if he or she had survived
  • Loss of consortium or guidance
  • Lost rights to an inheritance
  • Loss of the value of services the decedent provided to the family

If the decedent survived for a time after being injured before succumbing, you might also be able to recover damages your loved one could have recovered if he or she had survived. For example, you might recover damages for the physical pain and suffering he or she experienced before dying and damages to compensate you for any medical care that he or she received.

Talk to an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer

If your close family member was killed in a negligence accident or in an intentional crime, you may have legal rights to pursue a wrongful death claim. Contact the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave today to learn more about the options you might have by calling us at 417-322-2222 or sending us a message online.

Files under: Wrongful Death