If you have lost someone you love because of the negligence or intentional act of another, you may be able to recover damages for your loss. To recover, you must qualify under Missouri’s wrongful death law.
What Is Missouri’s Wrongful Death Law?
The Missouri wrongful death statute defines a “wrongful death” as “the death of a person result[ing] from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction, or circumstance which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages.” In short, this means that you may claim damages on behalf of a deceased loved one against someone who negligently or intentionally caused your loved one’s death. If qualified, you also may seek compensation for yourself as a result of the loss of your loved one in your life.
Who May Seek Damages under Missouri’s Wrongful Death Statute?
The Missouri wrongful death statute defines who may bring a claim for damages as a result of a loved one’s death that is caused by the actions of another. The persons who may bring a claim are determined by the nature of their relationship to the deceased person. The statute prioritizes three groups of persons who may bring a wrongful death claim.
The first group of persons who may assert a wrongful death claim in Missouri are those who are closest in relationship to the decedent. These include:
- A spouse
- A child
- Any surviving descendants of any child who predeceased the decedent. This means that if the decedent had a child who was already deceased when the wrongful death occurred, but the decedent had descendants (for example, grandchildren) from the deceased child, then those descendants would be able to assert a claim for wrongful death. It does not matter whether the predeceased child was the natural, adopted, legitimate, or illegitimate child of the decedent.
- The mother or father of the decedent. The parents of the decedent also may file a claim. It does not matter whether these are the natural or adoptive parents of the decedent.
If there are no persons from Group 1 who qualify to assert a wrongful death claim on behalf of the decedent, then the statute allows qualified persons in Group 2 to assert a claim. These persons include:
- A brother or sister of the deceased
- Any descendants of any brothers or sisters of the deceased
If there are no persons in Groups 1 or 2 who qualify to assert a claim, then the statute provides that a claim may be brought by a plaintiff ad litem, who shall be appointed by the court if requested on behalf of someone who is entitled to a share in the proceeds of the wrongful death action.
The statute provides that “[o]nly one action may be brought . . . against any one defendant for the death of any one person.” However, more than one claimant from the qualified group may join in that one action.
What Damages May I Recover Under the Missouri Wrongful Death Statute?
The Missouri wrongful death statute provides for a variety of damages that may be recovered, but the damages must be related to some pecuniary or financial loss suffered by the person bringing the claim as a result of the death of the decedent. These may include:
- Funeral or burial expenses
- The reasonable value of any contribution of services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, support, etc., the decent provided to the claimant during life, which is now lost as a result of the wrongful death
- And damages caused to the decedent between the time of the injury and the death of the decedent for which the decedent could have recovered had they not died (such as medical bills, pain and suffering)
- If the decedent was not employed full time but was at least 50% responsible for the care of a minor, disabled person, or someone older than 65 years old, then it will be a rebuttable presumed that the value of the care provided by the decedent will be equal to 110% of the state average weekly wage
- Lost wages. If the decedent is under 18 years old, then it will be a rebuttable presumed that the pecuniary loss resulting from the wrongful death will be based on the annual income of the decedent’s parent (if only one parent is earning income) or the average income of both parents (if both parents are earning income)
- Punitive damages (where the defendant showed complete indifference to or a conscious disregard for the safety of others)
In determining damages, the trier of facts may consider any mitigating or aggravating circumstances, but damages may not be recovered for the grief or bereavement that the claimant may be suffering because of their loss.
What Is the Must I File a Wrongful Death Claim Within a Certain Amount of Time?
Missouri law provides that to recover for wrongful death, you must file your claim within three years of the date of the decedent’s death. After that time, you will be precluded from asserting your right to recover for the decedent’s wrongful death.