One of the hardest challenges any family can face is the death of a loved one. Yet, when that death is caused by the negligence or misconduct of another, the loss seems even harder to bear. In those cases, the question that typically arises is: how do we hold that person responsible? If this has happened to your family, you may have a legal right to bring a lawsuit for “wrongful death.” A wrongful death lawyer can guide you through the process.
Understanding what “wrongful death” means
The legal term “wrongful death” is used to refer to the death of someone as a result of the negligence or misconduct of someone else. Each state has its own statute that defines the term more specifically, and also governs wrongful death claims brought in the courts of that state. For example, Missouri’s Wrongful Death Statute section 537.080 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 in respect thereof.” Arkansas’s legal definition is nearly identical.
Who can bring a wrongful death claim in court?
The personal representative appointed to handle the estate of the deceased person is required to file the wrongful death claim in Arkansas. If no such person has been appointed, then the claim can be filed by the deceased’s legal heirs, which would typically include the “surviving spouse, children, parents, or siblings; individuals standing “in loco parentis,”(in place of the parent) and individuals to whom the deceased stood in loco parentis.”
In Missouri, on the other hand, the surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren have first priority to bring a wrongful death claim. The parents of the deceased would be next in line. Usually, when the claim involves the death of a child (minor), the parents will file the wrongful death suit. If none of those individuals have survived the deceased, then a surviving sibling can bring the claim.
What can you recovery in wrongful death cases?
In both Arkansas and Missouri, the survivors of the deceased are allowed to seek damages on behalf of the deceased, as well as compensation for their own personal losses, as a result of their loved one’s untimely death. This compensation received can help to alleviate medical bills and other expenses that may have been incurred, such as funeral expenses. This is not true in every state. For example, in Alabama damages in wrongful death cases are purely punitive in nature.
Wrongful death damages in a Missouri
In Missouri, the goal of a wrongful death claim is to obtain compensation in the form of monetary damages, for the following:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills related to the deceased person’s final injury or illness
- value of wages and benefits the deceased would likely have earned
- pain and suffering experienced by the deceased just prior to death, and
- the “reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support” the deceased person provided to surviving family members.
Wrongful death damages in Arkansas
In Arkansas, damages for wrongful death claims are divided into two categories: the estate claim and the family claim. The estate claim generally seeks compensation for any losses the deceased person actually suffered as a result of his or her untimely death, including:
- funeral and burial costs
- medical bills for treatment of the deceased person’s last illness or injury
- pain and suffering the deceased endured before death, and
- the loss of the value of the deceased person’s remaining life, including wages
However, the family claim seeks compensation for losses the family members suffered as a result of losing their loved one, including:
- loss of the financial support of the deceased person
- loss of household services, and
- loss of care, comfort, and guidance.
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. This deadline or time limit is common referred to as the “statute of limitations.” In both Missouri and Arkansas, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death action is three (3) years.
Because wrongful death actions can be rather complicated claims to litigate, often more complex than basic personal injury cases, and typically result in a large damage award, it would be a good idea to consult with a wrongful death lawyer to assist you with your claim.
If you have questions regarding wrongful death, or any other personal injury concerns, contact us online or call the Cottrell Law Office at (888) 433-4861.
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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