wrongful death lawsuitsThe unexpected death of a family member is always devastating, taking an emotional toll on everyone else.
When your loved one’s death is caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may be able to recover for that loss by filing a lawsuit against the party at fault.
That type of claim is called “wrongful death.”
A question that is frequently asked by clients who have lost a loved one in this way is: what damages are recoverable in wrongful death lawsuits?
Here, our experienced wrongful death attorney will explain the different types of damages available in wrongful death claims.

The Types of Damages Available Depend on State Law

Like all other types of personal injury claims, wrongful death claims are governed by the law of the state where the injury or death occurred.
In both Arkansas and Missouri, the decedent’s close family members may bring a wrongful death lawsuit for damages to compensate them for their losses resulting from the decedent’s death. Close family members may receive both economic and non-economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits.

Damages Recoverable in Missouri Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Every case is different, and the specific damages that can be recovered depend on the circumstances involved. However, Missouri law establishes the different types of damages for which you may recover in wrongful death lawsuits. There are basically two categories of damages available: those related to the deceased and those related to the surviving family members. For example, you may be able to receive reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses and medical expenses that relate to your loved one’s final injury or illness.
You may also be able to recover the amount of wages or benefits that your loved one would have earned if he or she had not passed away. Finally, you may recover for any pain and suffering your loved one experienced just prior to their death. As for the survivor’s damages, you may recover the “reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support” your loved one provided to any surviving family members.

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Other Important Facts About Missouri Wrongful Death Damages

Depending on the situation, you may be able to recover damages if your loved one provided child care or elder care for someone. In that case, you may recover the value of the care that your loved one can no longer provide.
In this situation, you can show that your loved one was not otherwise employed full-time but was taking care of another family member for at least 50% of their time. In Missouri, there is a presumption that the value of this care is 110% of the average weekly wage rate in Missouri. However, this presumption can be challenged depending on the facts. Missouri also places a limit on the amount of non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering) that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases.
The limit increases annually for inflation and is $761,558 as of 2020 for malpractice resulting in death.

Damages Recoverable in Arkansas Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Similar to Missouri, Arkansas allows for two categories of wrongful death claims: the estate claim and the family claim. The estate claim involves those losses suffered by the deceased person as a result of his or her death, including funeral and burial costs, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and the lost value of your loved one’s life. As for the family claim, surviving family members can recover damages such as the loss of the financial support from their loved one, loss of household services, and loss of care, comfort, and guidance.

How Wrongful Death Damages Are Handled in Arkansas

When damages are awarded in estate claims in Arkansas, the award is not given to the estate, so they do not become part of the taxable assets of the estate.
Also, damages awarded in a family claim are paid directly to the surviving family as opposed to the estate. If the family cannot agree on how to divide the award, the court will decide.

Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Court?

Who can bring a wrongful death claim in court depends on whether you live in Arkansas or Missouri, as each state’s law is different.


In Arkansas wrongful death cases, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may bring a wrongful death claim. The personal representative brings the claim on behalf of the decedent’s surviving family members. If the decedent did not appoint a personal representative of his or her estate before their death, the court will appoint the personal representative.
If the decedent is a child, or the court cannot appoint a personal representative, one of the decedent’s heirs may bring the wrongful death claim.
Heirs can include:

  • The decedent’s spouse, children, parents, or siblings;
  • Legal guardians of the decedent; or
  • People for whom the decedent served as a legal guardian.

A personal injury lawyer can help you properly file your wrongful death claim in Arkansas.


Conversely, Missouri law creates three classes of individuals who may file wrongful death claims. The first group of individuals includes the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, and parents. When the decedent is a child, his or her parents most often bring a wrongful death claim.
If none of those individuals survived the decedent, then his or her siblings or their descendants may bring a wrongful death claim. If the decedent has no surviving spouse, children, grandchildren, parents, or siblings, then the court will appoint someone to bring the wrongful death claim.

Deadlines for Filing Wrongful Death Claims

Like all other legal claims, there is a deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, which differs from state to state. The statute of limitations provides the deadline for filing a case. In both Missouri and Arkansas, the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is three years. This means that you have three years from the date of the decedent’s death to bring a wrongful death claim.
We recommend talking with a personal injury lawyer as soon as you feel comfortable to ensure that your case gets filed on time. We don’t want you to miss your opportunity to receive the compensation you deserve for the loss of a loved one.
If you have questions regarding damages or any other wrongful death matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (800) 364-8305.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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