Wrongful Death Damages in Missouri
When a person dies in Missouri because of the negligent or intentional act of another person, Missouri law (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.080) allows certain persons closely related to the decedent to bring a cause of action on behalf of the decedent. The person bringing the claim also may seek compensation for their own financial losses in relation to the untimely death of the decedent.
If you have lost someone you love because of the negligence or intentional act of another, you may be able to recover the damages on behalf of your deceased loved one, as well as for your own financial damages because of their death.
What Is “Wrongful Death” in Missouri?
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.” This means that you may assert a claim on behalf of your deceased loved one to be compensated for the damages and loss that the defendant’s negligent or intentional act caused them. You also may be compensated for any pecuniary or financial loss that you suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligent act.
A negligent or intentional act that results in a “wrongful death” may include any type of act that might otherwise result in injury or fatality. This could include, for example:
- A car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian accident
- Medical malpractice
- A violent or criminal act
- A defective product (product liability)
- Slip and fall (premises liability)
- Failure to contain a dangerous animal (dog attack/dog bite)
Who May Seek Damages under Missouri’s Wrongful Death Statute?
There are three groups of persons who may bring a wrongful death claim in Missouri. The persons who fit into each of these groups are prioritized according to how closely they are related to the deceased. The three groups are prioritized as follows:
- Group One. Group one includes:
- A spouse
- A child
- Any grandchildren of the decedent whose parents have already died, whether the predeceased child was the natural, adopted, legitimate, or illegitimate child of the decedent
- The mother or father of the decedent, whether they are the natural or adoptive parents of the decedent
- Group Two. Only if there are no persons in Group One available to file suit may persons from Group 2 file a claim. Persons in Group Two may include:
- A brother or sister of the deceased
- Any descendants of any brothers or sisters of the deceased
- Group Three. Only if there are no persons in Group Two available to file suit may a person from Group 3 file a claim. Group Three consists of:
- A plaintiff ad litem, who the court shall appoint upon the application of another person entitled to share in the proceeds of the action
The statute further 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. Any person from a particular group who files a claim must give notice to any other person qualified from that group to file a claim.
What Damages May You Recover under the Missouri Wrongful Death Statute?
The Missouri wrongful death statute provides for several damages that you may recover as a result of the death of the decedent. These may include:
- Funeral or burial expenses
- The value of any contribution of services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, support, etc., that the decedent provided during life but that is now lost
- Damages that occurred between the time of the decedent’s injury and the time of death (such as medical bills, pain and suffering)
- Lost wages. 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 presumption that the value of the care provided by the decedent will be equal to 110% of the state’s average weekly wage.
- If the decedent is under 18 years old, then it will be 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 (if, in causing the decedent’s death, the defendant showed complete indifference to, or a conscious disregard for, the decedent’s safety)
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.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri?
Missouri law requires that you file your wrongful death claim within three years of the date of the decedent’s death. If you do not bring your claim within three years, you will be precluded from asserting your claim.
If you have lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligent or intentional act, you have a right to seek compensation on behalf of your loved one and for yourself. We know that no amount of compensation will make up for the loss of your loved one, but any recovery will assist you financially while you are grieving through this difficult time.