When your family experiences a death resulting from the negligence of another, nothing can fill the gap left by your loved one’s absence. However, many want to hold the person who caused the death accountable and ease some of the burdens that come with loss. Missouri statute governs your ability to bring a personal injury claim forward, so an attorney may help you navigate your claim. As a helpful resource, the wrongful death attorneys at Casey Devoti & Brockland have compiled the top questions we ask prospective clients faced with these circumstances.
1. What were the circumstances around the death?
The viability of a wrongful death case is similar to any other injury case — one must establish who is at fault for the incident. Ultimately, it is a case-by-case matter. Missouri statute allows the fact-finder to compare the degree of fault, including whether the departed individual contributed to the incident that caused their death. The comparison evaluates how the defendant and the deceased contributed to the death.
The statute talks in terms of “mitigation of fault.” As lawyers, we ask: did the deceased do something to contribute to the cause of their death? For example, if they were involved in a fatal car crash, the deceased may have run a stop sign, sped or made another decision that contributed to their downfall.
Their percentage of fault will reduce the amount their descendants may recover. For instance, if the court valued your loss at $100,000, but the fact-finder decides that the deceased was 25% at fault for the incident, the courts would subtract 25% of the total sum, which your family could recover. Mitigating issues are subjective — you will need a wrongful death attorney to help you gather evidence to present to the court to attempt to limit any reduction demanded by the defendant or her attorneys.
The statute also allows the fact-finder to consider aggravating circumstances: in other words, did the defendant do something grossly negligent? For example, the other driver may have been driving distracted and crossed the centerline or been under the influence of alcohol or drugs while behind the wheel. Drivers should know better than to act recklessly. Aggravating circumstances will enhance the viability of your claim.
2. What was your relationship with the deceased?
A wrongful death attorney at Casey, Devoti & Brockland will tell you that all eligible claimants separate into classes. The first and primary class includes directly-related individuals such as spouses, parents and children.
Consider a case involving a middle-aged, married person who has several children:
- In most cases, their spouse would have the most compelling claim — they would have likely relied on the deceased for financial support and support in other areas of life, including cleaning, cooking and caring for the children.
- Their children would also be highly eligible for compensation because they depended on their parents both financially and emotionally.
- If the deceased’s parents are still alive, they may also be grieving and upset — however, their adult child may not have provided them with any financial support or care. The courts may be unlikely to delegate the majority of the judgment or settlement if others in the class exist, specifically a spouse or minor children.
Ultimately, it is a matter of comparison — the closeness of your relationship with the departed individual determines how reliant you were on them for support and assistance in multiple areas of life. Specifically, Missouri statute says the following aspects are valued: loss of consortium, companionship, guidance, comfort, instruction, counsel and training.
3. How do you want to split the sum up?
Under Missouri law, only one action may be brought against a defendant for the death of an individual. Any eligible person can bring a case forward, and other related individuals can join the legal action later. No matter how many people are formally involved in the case, the court will divide the proceeds between all eligible members of the class. The court will also consider concrete numbers such as medical bills, lost wages and funeral expenses.
Parsing out funds will ultimately depend on the previous question: what was your relationship with the deceased like? One person may have been more financially or emotionally reliant than another. Determining the relationship may be a subjective process — we recommend you work with a wrongful death attorney at Casey, Devoti & Brockland on the final allocation of funds.
The quirk in Missouri is that all proposed settlements must be heard and approved by a judge. Resolutions must be brought before the court so they can examine the evidence and understand how the parties allocated the funds among themselves. The court reserves the right to approve or disapprove the plan — they may feel one party deserves more or another has too much. The court will decide how funds are distributed if the parties cannot agree.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
The attorneys at Casey, Devoti & Brockland often see wrongful death in three instances: medical incidents, auto crashes and construction incidents. However, we are prepared to handle any case involving the death of a loved one on your behalf — contact a wrongful death attorney for more information.