Winning a wrongful death suit in Missouri depends on your legal team’s ability to meet specific legal criteria.

You have to prove that a person’s death was due to another party’s negligence or intentional harm. This means establishing “a duty of care” owed by the defendant to the deceased, a breach of this duty, and a direct link between the breach and the death.

The strength of the evidence, the clarity of legal arguments and the specific circumstances of the case greatly influence the outcome.

Because every case is unique, it’s not possible to broadly say what the probabilities are of winning a wrongful death suit. Outcomes can vary significantly based on the facts and the quality of legal representation.

Understanding Wrongful Death Under Missouri Law

Missouri law defines wrongful death under Section 537.080 of the Missouri Statutes.

It occurs when a person’s death results from any “wrongful act, neglect, or default” of another entity or individual. Common grounds for wrongful death claims include medical malpractice, automobile accidents, workplace accidents and criminal acts like manslaughter.

The essence of a wrongful death claim in Missouri is establishing that the death could have been avoided if not for the negligent or intentional actions of the defendant.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Missouri law specifies a hierarchy of individuals eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This hierarchy begins with the immediate family members, such as the spouse, children, or grandchildren of the deceased. If no such relatives exist, the deceased’s parents, siblings, or representatives of the deceased’s estate can file the claim. This structured approach ensures that those most affected by the loss have the primary right to seek legal redress.

Statute of Limitations

In Missouri, wrongful death claims are subject to a statute of limitations. This means the lawsuit must be filed within three years from the date of the individual’s death. Failing to file within this period typically results in the loss of the right to sue. This time frame is crucial for gathering evidence and building a robust case.

Damages and Compensation

Damages in a wrongful death case in Missouri can be extensive, covering economic and non-economic losses. Economic damages include medical expenses incurred before death, funeral and burial costs, lost wages and benefits, and the value of services and support the deceased would have provided.

Non-economic damages encompass the more intangible losses, such as pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before death, loss of companionship, guidance, and consortium for the family members.

Caps on Damages

Missouri does not impose a cap on most wrongful death damages. However, there are exceptions, such as caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases.

This lack of a general cap allows juries and courts to award damages that truly reflect the impact of the loss on the family, although it also means awards can vary significantly from case to case.

Assessing the Strength of Your Wrongful Death Claim

Increasing the likelihood of winning a wrongful death suit entails the establishment of the following elements:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of that duty
  3. Cause of death
  4. Consequential damages

Evaluating Duty of Care and Breach

In a wrongful death context, duty of care requires that the defendant had a legal obligation to act in a manner that would not harm others. A breach of duty of care, or the defendant’s negligence, can be demonstrated when the defendant’s behavior deviates from what a reasonably prudent person would do in the same situation.

Proving liability in a wrongful death lawsuit is based on establishing that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim, the duty was breached, and this breach was the cause of death.

A simple example of a breach of duty of care would be a car accident caused by a driver running a red light. In this scenario, the driver has a legal duty of care to follow traffic laws and drive safely to avoid harming others. By running the red light, the driver breaches this duty. If the driver struck a pedestrian crossing the street, killing them, then we can see how the driver’s breach of their duty of care caused the wrongful death.

The burden of proof required in wrongful death claims in Missouri is ‘by a preponderance of the evidence’, suggesting that the defendant’s liability must be more likely than not.

Proving Causation and Damages

In Missouri wrongful death lawsuits, it is essential to establish that the death would not have occurred without the defendant’s breach of duty directly leading to the victim’s death.

Medical records, autopsy reports and death certificates are indispensable in illustrating the cause of death and connecting it to the defendant’s negligence. Additionally, your attorney can collect witness testimony that can offer insights into the circumstances of the incident.

Quantifying damages involves accurate calculation of economic damages such as expected lifetime earnings, medical expenses, funeral costs, and lost benefits, while also considering non-economic damages like loss of companionship and emotional distress.

To substantiate economic and non-economic damages, plaintiffs can use documentation such as bills and invoices and may rely on calculation methods and expert testimonies to support their claims.

Compensation Aspects in Wrongful Death Cases

As we mentioned above, wrongful death cases can include three main types of damages:

  1. Economic damages – These account for the financial losses due to the victim’s death.
  2. Non-economic damages – These encompass losses that are not easily quantifiable, such as emotional and psychological impacts suffered by surviving family members.
  3. Punitive damages – These are rare, but they can be awarded to punish the defendant for their wrongful actions and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior.

Quantifying non-economic damages can be challenging due to their subjective nature and unique impact on each case. Settlement amounts in wrongful death cases can vary significantly without a concrete average, but tend to range from $500,000 to around $1 million. In Missouri, economic and non-economic damages are recoverable in wrongful death lawsuits.

Punitive damages are not awarded in every wrongful death case; they are specifically directed at punishing the responsible party for egregious conduct and to deter future similar behavior.

Calculating Economic and Non-Economic Damages

Economic damages in a Missouri wrongful death case may encompass funeral and burial expenses, medical bills from the deceased’s final injury or illness, and the loss of future income and benefits. To calculate these economic damages, Missouri courts assess the state’s average weekly wage to estimate the value of services and support the deceased would have provided, assigning a standard value to caregiving services if the deceased was not employed full-time.

Non-economic damages in wrongful death suits account for the survivors’ loss of:

  • Companionship
  • Guidance
  • Emotional support
  • The pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death

Strategies for Enhancing Your Wrongful Death Suit Chances

A wrongful death lawsuit is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, perseverance, and a deep understanding of the law. But with the right strategies, you can enhance your chances of winning and secure justice for your loved one.

Timely Action and Adherence to Deadlines

Missouri’s wrongful death statutes specify a three-year statute of limitations from the date of the deceased person’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Understanding this timeframe is critical to avoid losing the right to seek compensation and to ensure all evidence is gathered effectively.

Failure to file within the statute of limitations results in lost leverage against insurance companies and the potential for the case to be dismissed without any options for legal recourse. For claims that involve seeking punitive damages in Missouri, a motion must be submitted to the court with supporting evidence no later than 120 days before the final pretrial conference or trial.

Gathering Compelling Evidence and Witness Testimony

Evidence from the scene of the incident, including photographs, videos and physical items, is critical for reconstructing the events leading to the death and demonstrating negligence or wrongdoing. Gathering documentation regarding the defendant’s safety records, employment history, and prior incidents establishes patterns of negligence or misconduct in Missouri wrongful death lawsuits.

A comprehensive investigation for a wrongful death claim involves collecting evidence from medical records, police reports, and consulting witnesses for additional details and evidence corroboration. Proper documentation such as medical bills, funeral expenses, and proof of lost income is essential to support a claim for economic damages in a wrongful death case to ensure fair compensation.

Effective Negotiation and Settlement Tactics

Highlighting the strengths of the case before proposing a settlement can significantly influence the acceptance of the offer, especially when the proposal is straightforward and easy to understand. Implementing psychological tactics in negotiations, such as utilizing the rule of reciprocity, creating a sense of scarcity, and fostering ‘unity’ through shared experiences, can make the opposition more amenable to a settlement.

After depositions reveal the case’s strengths, framing discussions around the potential risks and costs associated with going to trial can encourage the defense to settle. Some strategies to consider include:

  • Building a positive atmosphere by preloading requests with complimentary remarks and establishing a rapport
  • Highlighting the potential risks and costs of going to trial
  • Presenting settlement offers in a clear and persuasive manner

By implementing these strategies, you can increase the likelihood of reaching a settlement in your case.

Preparing for the Possibility of Trial

Preparation for a wrongful death trial entails a thorough understanding of the discovery phase, the strategic use of expert witnesses and the jury selection process.

Jury selection plays a pivotal role in the outcome of a wrongful death trial by shaping the decision-making and damage award tendencies of the jury. Active participation in the jury selection process increases the likelihood of securing a compassionate and impartial jury, thereby enhancing the chances for a successful outcome in court.

The Discovery Process and Its Significance

The discovery phase is critical to the trial process in wrongful death lawsuits, enabling the parties to collect necessary evidence to build their cases. It is crucial to actively participate in the discovery phase for your wrongful death claim. Close collaboration with your attorney can help in gathering essential evidence.

Depositions, where witness testimony is taken under oath outside of court, are a key element in the discovery process of wrongful death lawsuits. The discovery process also includes written interrogatories and requests for the production of documents, in addition to depositions. Deposition outcomes can significantly sway the direction of a wrongful death case, potentially steering it towards settlement or further discovery.

If the wrongful death case persists post-depositions without settlement, it indicates additional discovery measures will be taken, setting the stage for trial. The discovery phase can often take a considerable amount of time, ranging from several months to years in some cases. It is a critical stage in the process of investigation or research.

Leveraging Expert Witnesses to Corroborate Claims

Expert witnesses are integral to wrongful death cases as they offer:

  • Credible testimony based on adherence to professional conduct, ethical standards, and their unbiased opinions formed from facts and specialized knowledge
  • The ability to convey complex concepts and technical information to jurors in understandable terms
  • Crucial support for establishing the defendant’s liability and the nuances of the cause of death.

Different wrongful death scenarios necessitate different types of expert analysis, ranging from medical expertise in malpractice cases to engineering input for product liability, each corroborating specific claim aspects. The strategic selection of expert witnesses by a wrongful death attorney can significantly influence the case outcome, leveraging the attorney’s network to find the right expertise for substantiating the claim.

The Importance of Expert Legal Representation

An experienced attorney, also known as a wrongful death lawyer, can greatly boost the chances of a favorable outcome in a wrongful death case by adeptly handling legal complexities and presenting a strong case. Expert wrongful death attorneys manage the entirety of the legal process, including:

  • Filing within the statute of limitations
  • Gathering evidence and conducting investigations
  • Negotiating with insurance companies
  • Representing the family in court

This allows families to focus on grieving rather than legalities.

Mark Niemeyer, David Grebel, and Michael Kruse, top-rated personal injury lawyers in St. Louis, bring decades of collective expertise to wrongful death lawsuits. The team’s professional approach, combined with their expertise and compassion, contributes significantly to their ability to handle complex wrongful death cases effectively.

Remember, every journey begins with a single step. And that first step in your quest for justice is to reach out to experienced wrongful death attorneys. Call NGK Law at 314-241-1919 to start the journey towards justice for your loved one.

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