Dealing with the loss of a loved one is an indescribable pain, which can become unbearably painful when their death is someone else’s fault.

When someone dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, this is known as wrongful death. In this case, Missouri law allows certain surviving family members or a personal representative to seek compensation to recover lost income, medical bills and emotional suffering from the loss of their loved one.

The settlement amount and distribution in Missouri wrongful death cases depends on various factors, including the deceased’s financial and personal contributions, the defendant’s fault and characteristics of the involved parties. There is no standard or average amount, but depending on the circumstances in the case, it’s not unusual to see payouts in wrongful death claims significantly exceed $1 million.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Missouri

Dealing with the death of a loved one is hard enough. But when that death is a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional act, it can be even more challenging to navigate the financial and legal implications. This is where wrongful death lawsuits come into play. In Missouri, a wrongful death is defined as a death caused by the failure of an individual or entity to fulfill their legal “duty of care.”

Certain surviving family members or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit. The general statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in Missouri is three years from the date of death.

The value of Missouri wrongful death cases hinges on the following factors:

  • The financial and emotional losses experienced by the deceased’s dependents
  • The defendant’s liability
  • The deceased’s age and earning potential
  • The circumstances surrounding the wrongful death
  • Available compensation types
  • Characteristics of the involved parties

These factors can influence the settlement amounts.

Types of Compensation Available

In a wrongful death lawsuit, there are three main types of compensation that may be included in a settlement or verdict: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic damages encompass compensation for:

  • Medical expenses incurred from the incident leading to death
  • Anticipated future earnings
  • Inheritance the deceased would have provided
  • Funeral and burial costs.

Non-economic damages, on the other hand, include subjective losses such as pain and suffering the deceased experienced prior to death, and the loss of companionship, counsel and guidance to survivors, with caps in Missouri at $801,061 for certain cases.

Lastly, punitive damages are awarded in rare instances to punish the defendant for intentional or egregiously reckless behavior that led to wrongful death.

Determining the Settlement Amount

The procedure to determine the settlement amount in a wrongful death lawsuit is intricate, involving several factors. The monetary outcome of a wrongful death case is influenced by:

  • The value of losses
  • The quality of evidence
  • The intent of the negligent party
  • Unique case details

Greater substantiation and severe negligence can lead to increased compensations.

For instance, the future life outlook of the deceased, including career achievement and community reputation, can have a significant impact on the awarded settlement amounts if the case is brought before the court.

Additionally, key demographic and financial factors that play a crucial role in defining the settlement amount in a wrongful death claim include:

  • The decedent’s age
  • Educational background
  • Professional experience
  • Consequent loss to surviving dependents

Keep in mind that wrongful death settlements can significantly vary, often ranging from $500,000 to over $1 million, underscoring the uniqueness and variability of each case. It’s important to consider the average wrongful death settlement as a reference point, but remember that each case is different.

Distribution Among Family Members

Once a settlement is reached in a wrongful death lawsuit, the funds are distributed among the family members of the deceased. In Missouri, the assets from a wrongful death settlement or jury verdict are distributed according to state laws and not by the decedent’s will or intestate succession.

The succession priority in Missouri places the surviving spouse and children, or if there are no children, the parents, as primary recipients of wrongful death lawsuit settlements.

Parties involved in a Missouri wrongful death case decide how proceeds should be distributed, potentially with the help of attorneys. If there is disagreement, the court may intervene to determine the distribution.

In cases where the deceased did not appoint a personal representative, the probate court in Missouri may become involved, appointing a representative and potentially requiring a plaintiff ad litem to provide a bond for properly managing the proceeds.

The Process of Receiving Your Wrongful Death Settlement

To initiate a wrongful death lawsuit, a personal representative of the deceased’s estate must file the claim with an attorney in the appropriate court jurisdiction.

The personal representative is responsible for negotiating the settlement, which must be approved by a court to ensure it serves the best interests of the estate’s beneficiaries. Settling a wrongful death lawsuit can take several months to years depending on:

  • Case complexity
  • Cooperation of involved parties
  • Evidence
  • The specific circumstances of the wrongful death.

Once a wrongful death settlement is reached and approved, beneficiaries typically receive payment within 4 to 6 weeks. However, in some jurisdictions, like Illinois, the probate process must be considered as it can affect the distribution and timeline for payment of wrongful death settlement funds.

Timeline for Payment After Settlement

Once a settlement has been reached and approved in a wrongful death lawsuit, it typically takes about four to six weeks for the beneficiaries to receive the compensation. However, the timeline to receive settlement money after a wrongful death case settlement can vary greatly based on:

  • Case complexity
  • Disputes over fault
  • Settlement amounts
  • Proving damages

Court approval is often a prerequisite for finalizing a wrongful death settlement, which can alter the payment timeline. One important thing to remember is that once a settlement is accepted, the opportunity for further legal action is typically forfeited. This underscores the importance of ensuring all settlement terms are satisfactory before agreement.

Role of Insurance Companies in Settlement Payouts

Insurance companies significantly impact wrongful death settlements. Damages in wrongful death cases are generally retrieved either through insurance companies or by directly suing the defendant.

The amount of insurance coverage the defendant has can greatly influence the potential settlement amount, with better-insured defendants offering a higher chance of a satisfactory settlement. When the at-fault party’s insurance coverage is not enough to cover the damages of a wrongful death, the value and viability of the claim can be significantly affected.

Surviving family members must be cautious of insurance companies’ attempts to minimize settlements, often needing to rely on experienced attorneys to negotiate and prevent lowball settlements.

Negotiations with insurance companies can prolong the timeline of settling a wrongful death claim, especially if the insurers dispute the claim or offer amounts that are deemed insufficient.

Payment Structure Options for Wrongful Death Settlements

Upon receiving your wrongful death settlement, several payment structure options are available. These include a lump-sum payment, which is a single upfront payment, or a structured settlement that is paid out over a specified period.

A lump sum payment refers to a one-time payment that the survivors of the deceased receive all at once, providing immediate funds.

On the other hand, structured settlement payments are dispersed in increments, such as monthly or yearly installments, offering a steady stream of income over an extended period.

The choice between these two options will depend on your financial needs and the specifics of your case.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lump Sum Payments

Choosing a lump sum payment for your wrongful death settlement comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, lump sum payments grant beneficiaries immediate access to the funds. Beneficiaries can utilize these funds for various purposes, such as paying off existing debts or making investments.

However, one of the main drawbacks of lump sum payments is the potential challenge of managing a large sum of money. Receiving a large payment all at once can complicate the process of paying off larger debts, and may also lead to financial mismanagement if not handled wisely.

Understanding Structured Settlements

The other payment option for wrongful death settlements is a structured settlement. Structured settlements provide:

  • A regular and reliable income for beneficiaries
  • Critical financial support for those who relied on the decedent’s earnings
  • Certainty of financial security over a fixed period

The design of structured settlements includes protections against insurer insolvency through state insurance laws, and are established in scenarios where there may be no insurance policy covering the at-fault party’s liability.

Recipients of structured settlements benefit from customizable payment schedules, which can provide larger upfront payments to cover immediate expenses, and adapt to changing financial needs over time.

However, structured settlements can pose challenges such as restrictions on access to large sums of money for unforeseen needs, and they may lose purchasing power over time due to inflation unless structured to account for these factors.

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?

Under IRS code, the tax treatment of wrongful death settlements can be complex.

Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Compensatory Damages – These are typically not taxable. Compensatory damages are payments for actual losses suffered, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and funeral costs. The IRS generally does not consider these payments as income.
  2. Pain and Suffering – If the pain and suffering component is directly related to a physical injury, it is usually not taxable. However, if it’s related to emotional distress and not directly linked to a physical injury, it might be taxable.
  3. Punitive Damages – These are taxable. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and are considered income by the IRS.
  4. Interest – Any interest on the settlement amount is typically taxable. If there’s a delay in payment and the settlement accrues interest, that interest is considered income.

Given the complexities and variations in individual cases, it’s advisable for recipients of wrongful death settlements to consult with a tax professional to understand the specific tax implications for their particular settlement.

Managing Large Settlements

Managing a large wrongful death settlement requires careful financial planning and budgeting. It’s recommended to consult with a financial planner to ensure long-term financial stability. Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Pay off debts, especially those with high interest rates.
  2. Establish an emergency fund with a portion of the settlement to provide financial security and cover unexpected expenses in the future.
  3. Consider investing a portion of the settlement to generate additional income.
  4. Create a budget to track expenses and ensure the settlement funds are used wisely.
  5. Consult with an attorney to understand any tax implications of the settlement.

By following these steps, you can make the most of your wrongful death settlement and secure your financial future.

Budgeting is crucial for managing finances after receiving a wrongful death settlement. Diversifying investments can help protect the settlement from inflation and grow the funds.

The Role of Wrongful Death Attorneys in Maximizing Your Settlement

In a wrongful death lawsuit, working with an an experienced wrongful death lawyer is vital.

Legal professionals like those at Niemeyer, Grebel, and Kruse use their negotiation skills and legal knowledge to effectively manage the settlement process, often making it quicker and more favorable for their clients.

They also advise against accepting quick settlement offers without proper legal consultation to ensure that families receive comprehensive compensation for all damages, preventing them from entering into agreements that may not fully cover their long-term needs.

In wrongful death cases involving multiple parties or a government entity, the intricacies can escalate the complexity and potentially increase overall legal costs. This is where the expertise of a wrongful death attorney can be invaluable.

An attorney’s negotiation skills and trial experience are crucial in wrongful death cases as they can significantly influence the settlement amount and determine the case outcome. Attorneys with proven negotiation skills and a history of successful claims and favorable jury verdicts can secure higher compensation for clients, providing financial security and contributing to prevent future tragedies.

Comparing Settlements vs. Jury Awards in Wrongful Death Cases

When initiating a wrongful death claim, it’s common to wonder whether it’s best to settle the case out of court or proceed to trial. Most wrongful death cases are concluded through settlements before a trial.

Whether a wrongful death case should be settled or go to trial depends on the specific facts of the case and the likelihood of reaching a fair compensation agreement.

Resolving wrongful death suits out of court can result in a faster and more cost-effective conclusion, as well as providing a more foreseeable outcome for the family members of the deceased.

However, a wrongful death settlement is an agreement where the responsible party compensates the surviving family members, and the case is dismissed. If the settlement offer is unsatisfactory, the family has the option to settle or go to trial.

Pros and Cons of Settling Out of Court

Settling a wrongful death suit out of court can lead to a quicker resolution and a more controlled outcome, avoiding the emotional drain, delays and expenses associated with trials.

Settling out of court is less expensive due to reduced legal fees, as less time is spent preparing for trial. An out-of-court settlement can protect the privacy of the involved parties, avoiding the release of sensitive information and unwanted media attention.

However, trials can be unpredictable, with jury awards varying widely due to their interpretation of evidence and law, posing a risk to the plaintiff’s case outcome.

The uncertainty of a trial’s outcome, based on the judgment of the jury or judge, contrasts with the predictability and control of a negotiated settlement.

It’s worth noting that over 90% of wrongful death cases are settled out of court, and this approach is generally successful, as about 90% of cases that do go to trial still settle before a verdict is reached.

What to Expect If Your Case Goes to Trial

If your wrongful death case goes to trial, there are several things to expect. Trials for wrongful death cases involve presenting evidence to a jury or judge, where both sides will have the opportunity to state their case through opening statements, witness testimony, cross-examinations, and closing arguments.

The trial process can lead to unpredictable outcomes with the final award determined by the jury or judge based on their interpretation of the evidence and law.

How to Navigate the Aftermath of a Loved One’s Wrongful Death

Surviving family members unquestionably face a challenging time following a loved one’s wrongful death. Nevertheless, various resources and strategies exist to aid families in navigating this tough period.

The emotional toll of a wrongful death can include feelings such as:

  • Anger
  • Grief
  • Confusion
  • Guilt

These feelings may be intensified by the sense of injustice and unanswered questions. It’s important to find strength and coping mechanisms through support and understanding, which can be facilitated by wrongful death lawyers who can help in healing and securing compensation.

Seeking Emotional Support

In the aftermath of a wrongful death, seeking emotional support is crucial. Grief counseling and support groups are essential for emotional support following a wrongful death. These resources help individuals process their loss in a safe and understanding environment. Forming a community with others who have experienced similar trauma provides a sense of solidarity and understanding. Grief therapy is crucial for families mourning the loss of a loved one to wrongful death, as it allows individuals to face their emotions and work toward closure. Group therapy offers a communal healing experience, connecting bereaved individuals who can empathize with each other’s grief.

Educational workshops and counseling sessions empower families with knowledge that aids in their journey toward justice and healing. Finding a therapist who specializes in grief and trauma can help those affected by wrongful death cope with their loss in a more personal and focused setting.

Financial Considerations

In addition to the emotional toll of a wrongful death, there are also financial considerations to take into account. Financial aid from community-based resources can help families cover funeral and burial expenses and potential loss of income, reducing the economic stress during an emotionally challenging time.

Wrongful death settlements can be disbursed as a lump sum payment, providing immediate access to the funds which can be used to pay debts, invest, or support the family financially. In some cases, wrongful death settlements paid may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case.

Alternatively, structured settlements offer a regular and reliable income over a period, which can help with long-term financial stability and is secured through an annuity contract.

It’s advisable to consult with a wrongful death attorney and a financial planner to determine the best payment structure for the beneficiaries’ specific circumstances.

A personal representative, appointed by the court, typically manages the negotiation and settlement of the claim, which requires court approval or consent from all beneficiaries.

The timing of payment after a wrongful death settlement can be affected by:

  • The complexity of negotiations
  • Documentation requirements
  • Party cooperation
  • Payment method
  • Beneficiary disputes
  • Paperwork errors
  • System backlogs
  • Unexpected changes

Beneficiaries of a wrongful death settlement should consider establishing a trust to manage and protect the proceeds, which can also provide tax benefits and financial security for the future.

It’s important to update or create a new will and other estate planning documents to reflect the changes in financial circumstances and ensure the proper management of assets.

Life insurance policies should be reviewed and updated accordingly to reflect any changes needed after the wrongful death incident.

Setting up a budget that accounts for the settlement proceeds can help manage the financial impact and plan for future expenses and investments.

Why Choose Niemeyer, Grebel, and Kruse for Your Wrongful Death Claim

Choosing the right legal team can significantly ease the task of pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. Renowned as top personal injury lawyers in St. Louis, the attorneys at Niemeyer, Grebel, and Kruse come highly recommended.

Mark Niemeyer and David Grebel are listed among the 2023 Best Lawyers. David Grebel is listed as a Top 50 attorney in St. Louis and Top 100 attorney in Missouri by Super Lawyers Magazine.

In addition to their legal expertise, the team at Niemeyer, Grebel, and Kruse prides themselves on providing personalized, thorough and aggressive representation for each of their clients.

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