During a time of crisis, the last thing the survivors might be thinking about is hiring a wrongful death attorney. However, it is crucial to get an experienced personal injury law firm with a proven track record on the case, investigating the facts — immediately, before evidence is lost and witnesses or documents disappear.
We have been winning cases for our clients in Saint Louis and around the country for more than 30 years. Schedule a free case evaluation so that we can determine your best path forward with your potential wrongful death case.
The loss of a loved one is a life-altering event. It is made even worse if the surviving family members feel that this death could have been prevented. The family is left dealing with the emotional grief of such a loss; if the deceased was a parent or provider, relatives might also be faced with a real and immediate financial crisis.
Call 314-433-9131 or click the button below to contact us and speak with a St. Louis wrongful death lawyer
What constitutes wrongful death?
A wrongful death occurs when someone dies as the result of the wrongful acts of another person. In other words, someone has died because somebody did something wrong. The most obvious example would be if a person is shot and killed by another. However, the vast majority of cases we deal with are not intentional homicides, rather they involve a death cause by the negligent or reckless acts of another person.
Many states, including Missouri, have laws on the books that govern who can bring a wrongful death case, how you bring it and what damages you can pursue. In Missouri, our wrongful death act is set out in RsMO Sec. 537.080. This statute dictates exactly how to proceed with a wrongful death action and what you can recover.
Common types of wrongful death cases
Many tragic situations can lead to wrongful death claims. If you’ve lost a family member or loved one in any of these situations or similar accidents, our wrongful death lawyer can help.
How much time do you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit?
The statute of limitations for wrongful death vary by state. In Missouri, the statute of limitation is three years, calculated from the date of death. If no lawsuit is filed within this time, it is unlikely the court will agree to hear it at all. It’s imperative you speak with a lawyer to get legal advice as soon as possible after the death.
Who can sue for wrongful death?
In Missouri, there are three categories of people who can sue for the wrongful death of a person.
In this category, the spouse, father or mother — whether they are natural or adoptive, or children of the deceased, including children who are natural or adopted, as well as legitimate or illegitimate, can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If the children are dead, the descendants of the children can also bring the lawsuit; this includes descendants' children who are natural born or adopted, as well as legitimate or illegitimate.
If there are no remaining relatives from the first category who can sue, then a member from the second category can bring the action. This group includes the siblings of the deceased or the siblings’ descendants, including siblings or their descendants who are natural or adopted, as well as legitimate or illegitimate.
If no relatives from the first two categories can bring a lawsuit, the court can appoint a plaintiff ad litem; this is someone whom the legal heirs of the deceased have requested the court to appoint.
What should I do immediately following the wrongful death of a loved one?
When you lose a loved one, naturally you are going to be overcome by grief and overwhelmed by the many tasks ahead. If you suspect your loved one died because of someone else’s negligence or reckless disregard, every emotion you feel will be amplified. During this hectic and vulnerable time, you will benefit from the guidance of an attorney with experience in wrongful death cases. Although it may not be your first instinct to contact an attorney, often, it’s in your best interest to do so. In such circumstances, there is valuable evidence that must be collected or evidence will disappear.
Dos following a wrongful death
If you suspect the wrongful death of a loved one, there are several things you should do to best position your case
- Talk to a knowledgeable attorney who is experienced in handling wrongful death cases as soon as possible to give you advice on your options, as well as what to do and what not to do.
- Obtain and preserve any evidence to the best of your ability, including accident reports, death certificate, autopsy, clothing, pictures, video, etc.
- If you are aware of any witnesses to the event, note their names, addresses, contact information and any important information about what they saw, etc.
- Either gather or make a list (if you don’t have access) of the deceased's medical providers and medical records. The individual’s prior health could come into question.
- Gather pay stubs and tax records to provide evidence of earnings and income, including any retirement, Social Security or disability benefits.
- Pull together family pictures and videos of the deceased to help capture his life.
- Contact the deceased’s insurance.
- Request your friends and family not to post about your deceased loved one or the case on their social media accounts.
Donts following a wrongful death
Following the wrongful death of your loved one, there are several things you should not do.
- Do not talk to any opposing attorney or insurance company about the situation or your loved one without your attorney present. In most instances, your attorney should speak for you.
- Do not sign any documents related to the situation without your attorney’s counsel.
- Do not provide a recorded or written statement in relation to the circumstances surrounding the wrongful death of your loved one.
- Don’t post anything – not pictures or content – on social media. In fact, you should change all of your profiles to a private setting as soon as possible, especially if you have pictures or content about the deceased. Remember, your social media accounts are discoverable.
- Do not accept new friend requests, especially from people you don’t know
What can I expect when I reach out to an attorney in your office?
We will get your contact information and take a thorough statement about how your loved one lost their life. Many of the questions we ask will focus on what you observed or heard (first- or second-hand) about the wrongful death. We will want to know what happened, where and when it happened, who else was involved, etc. We will want to know more about the deceased, including family, employment, medical history, life insurance, health insurance, etc. We want to know of any evidence or resources you may be aware of that might help us help you.
- Possible witnesses and their contact information
- Video footage
- Police report/Accident report
- Autopsy report if applicable
- Health/life insurance of the deceased
- Medical history of the deceased
We will want to get as much information as we can to begin investigating the matter. Time is of the essence as information and witnesses can disappear. We also want to offer you guidance about your legal options pertaining specifically to your case.
What should I look for in hiring a wrongful death attorney?
Following the wrongful death of a loved one, you may feel confused, lost and angry. Finding the right attorney to help you through this difficult time is critical to resolving your case to your satisfaction. There are a number of questions you should ask as you interview potential attorneys to help you.
- How many wrongful death cases has the attorney closed in the last 24 months? You want to look for a reasonable number and gauge the attorney’s comfort and experience level in handling these kinds of cases. You want to make sure your case is not the first case they are handling in this area or even in the last five years, but you also want to make sure you are not just a number.
- How many wrongful death cases similar to your loved one’s has the attorney handled? It’s always helpful if the attorney has experience with similar cases, especially if most were successfully resolved.
- Has the attorney ever taken a similar wrongful death case to court or does the firm just settle such cases? Wrongful death cases are almost always complicated. Sometimes a trial is needed. You want an attorney who is not only comfortable handling such cases and settling them, but you want an attorney who has the experience to try your case in front of a jury, should there be a need. You also want an attorney who understands Missouri’s wrongful death statute and is familiar with the many nuances that can come into play.
- What kinds of experts do they work with? At Fernandez Law, we work with a team of experts including accident reconstructionists, safety engineers, medical experts and clinicians, highway, bridge and railroad crossing civil engineers, trucking regulation experts and law enforcement to get to the bottom of what happened in each situation. In addition we use experts to explain to the jury the extent of the damage suffered by the family due to the loss of their loved one. Very often we have cases where the deceased is the primary wage earner for the family. We use experts such as economists and vocational rehabilitation experts to show the jury the economic loss suffered by the family for not only the wage loss but all of the other losses such as health insurance, union benefits and retirement plans.
- Who is going to be working on my case? Will the attorney you are talking with be the one to work on your case? Or, will your case be handed off to someone you haven’t met or even talked with? If so, what experience and expertise does that person have? This is important to know because you want to be dealing with someone you are both comfortable with and confident in. Many attorneys don’t have the expertise to deal with such cases, so they refer them to another firm for a co-council fee.
How do I pay an attorney?
At Fernandez Law, we understand that the loss of a loved one is difficult. The wrongful death of a loved one is even more self-consuming. We want to help. During this time, we know you will benefit from the guidance of an attorney with experience in wrongful death cases, so we front all expenses. We are reimbursed from the settlement or judgment proceeds only after your case is resolved.
How do you prove wrongful death?
There are four basic elements you need in order to prove a wrongful death claim. Without having these four components on your side, proving your case will be futile.
Negligent or Reckless Act
The plaintiff must prove that the death of their family member was caused, either in totality or in part, by the negligence or recklessness of the defendant.
Breach of Duty
The plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty to a deceased victim. In other words you must show that not only did the defendant engage in a negligent act that resulted in the Plaintiff’s death, but also that he had a duty to refrain from acting in such a manner. For example, medical staff has a duty to maintain a patient’s health, and motorists have a duty to follow traffic laws. The plaintiff should show what the duty was and how the negligent action of the defending party breached this duty.
The plaintiff must show how the defending party’s negligence caused the victim’s death. All too often we see cases in the area of medical negligence where a health care provider was clearly negligent but due to the condition of the patient no one can say with any certainty that if they would have acted differently there would have been a better outcome.
The plaintiff must show that the deceased’s death caused damages, such as medical expenses, loss of income and potential earnings, and funeral and burial costs, along with pain and suffering of the victim.
Wrongful Death Damages
The plaintiff must show that the deceased’s death caused damages, such as medical expenses, loss of income and potential earnings, as well as funeral and burial costs, along with pain and suffering of the victim.
A jury is allowed to award a plaintiff money for both economic and non-economic damages in Missouri.
Economic damages cover financial loss you and your family have incurred; it usually consists of medical bills, lost wages, funeral bills and pharmacy expenses. You can collect for past damages, as well as damages you will incur in the future.
Non-economic damages include compensation for your deceased loved one’s pain and suffering, mental anguish and your loss of reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support you and your family enjoyed from the deceased. In Missouri, there are no limits to the non-economic damages that can be awarded, with the exception of medical malpractice cases. Per Missouri law, non-economic damages are limited to $787,671 for 2022, for catastrophic injuries..
You should also be aware that Missouri law does not allow for damages for you and your family’s grief and bereavement as related to the wrongful death.
What damages are awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit?
The purpose of filing a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek monetary damages for the life that was cut short due to someone else’s negligence. According to Missouri RsMO 537.090, plaintiffs can seek the following damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Funeral expenses, including burial expenses
- Medical and pharmaceutical bills related to the victim’s injury or illness that caused the death
- Pain and suffering the deceased experienced between the final injury or illness and death
- Value of wages and benefits the deceased would have been likely to receive if he or she had lived
- Reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support plaintiffs enjoyed from the victim
- Value of care for minors, disabled or elderly if the deceased was not employed full time. Missouri law allows for damages if the deceased was at least 50% responsible for the care of one or more minors, disabled persons or persons over the age of 65.Regardless of the number of people the deceased cared for, damages are assessed at 110% of the state’s average weekly wage.
Our family is so appreciative of the expert legal representation we received.Because of Gonzalo's knowledge of the complex legal system, he was able to bring our lawsuit to a successful conclusion.We would highly recommend anyone who has similar concerns in health adjudication issues to seek out the services and expertise that this law firm has to offer.
Call Our Wrongful Death Lawyer Today
Although we know no amount of money will ever compensate you for your loss, we can help you get the compensation to which you are entitled for the death of a loved one.
Our personal injury attorney takes cases in St. Louis, Mo., and throughout the greater states of Missouri and Illinois. Whether the accidental death was sudden or occurred sometime after a car crash or surgical error, we are ready to hear your story and advise you on legal steps to take. Please contact us today so that we can help you during this time of crisis.
Call 314-433-9131 or toll free 866-285-4611 to find out what your claim is worth. We’re ready to help you get the compensation you deserve.