St. Louis Wrongful Death Attorneys
Unintentional injuries constitute the leading cause of death for individuals in St. Louis between the ages of one and four. From a higher-than-average crime rate to congested streets where accidents frequently occur to errors made in one of the area’s many hospitals or nursing homes, living in this city comes with inherent risks.
What happens, however, when an accident results in death? How do the decedent’s family members move forward with the loss of everything their loved one provided financially and emotionally? How do they make sure to hold the individual or entity who caused their loved one’s death accountable?
If you have lost a loved one due to the reckless or careless actions of someone else, an experienced St. Louis wrongful death lawyer from The Bruning Law Firm can help you understand the process of obtaining compensation to help with the expenses and psychological impacts of your loss.
We take pride in the results we have obtained for our clients in wrongful death cases, including:
- A $50 million jury verdict for a family that lost two children as a result of a fire after a faulty smoke detector failed to warn them of the fire.
- A $2.6 million settlement for a family after a gas leak caused their house to explode, resulting in one death and burn injuries.
- A $750,000 settlement for the family members of an individual who died as an occupant of a vehicle that a commercial truck rear-ended.
- A $707,000 jury verdict for parents of a child who died when a babysitter failed to provide proper supervision.
About St. Louis Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A St. Louis wrongful death lawsuit involves a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to show who caused the accident that caused the deceased to incur fatal injuries as well as to show the financial and quality-of-life impacts that the deceased’s family members have suffered as a result of their loss.
Missouri defines wrongful death as a death that arises “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.”
In other words, had the individual sustained an injury but survived the accident and qualified to recover compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, then the death of that individual as a result of the injuries sustained in the accident gives rise to a wrongful death claim by family members.
The Types of Incidents That Result in Wrongful Death in St. Louis
Individuals can suffer fatal injuries through a variety of activities, and if those fatal injuries resulted from someone else’s negligent, reckless, or even intentional behavior, a St. Louis wrongful death lawyer can help file a legal claim on behalf of the decedent’s family members. Below, we discuss some of the more common accident types to give rise to a St. Louis wrongful death case.
Traffic Accidents. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, traffic accidents constitute the leading cause of death for children under the age of four and young adults aged 20 to 24. Traffic accidents result in the deaths of more than 2,000 young people in Missouri each year, with some of the most common causes of traffic accidents in St. Louis involving distracted driving, speeding, alcohol impairment, and inexperience.
If you lost a loved one due to any type of traffic-related accident, including those involving cars, pickups, SUVs, commercial trucks, motorcycles, buses, taxis, rideshares, pedestrians, or bicyclists, an experienced wrongful death attorney from The Bruning Law Firm would like to talk to you about your case.
Premises Liability. Premises liability refers to a type of case in which a residential, commercial, or public agency that owns or possesses a property fails to ensure that the property has no hazards that may cause injury to a guest. Slip and fall claims constitute the most common type of premises liability claim, which arises when a guest of a property slips or trips over an obstacle and falls either from the same elevation or from a height.
Falls constitute the leading cause of death in individuals over the age of 65 in Missouri.
Other types of premises liability wrongful death claims include:
- Swimming pool accidents
- Elevator or escalator accidents
- Negligent security, which involves the property owner failing to protect guests from becoming victims of crime that the property owner knows commonly occurs in the area.
- Dog bites, which the dog owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance generally provides compensation to victims.
Medical Malpractice. Pre-pandemic, medical errors rank as one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. While mistakes often happen in health care settings, if the mistake resulted from carelessness or recklessness in providing care and resulted in a patient’s death, the injured individual may qualify to pursue a wrongful death claim.
Product Liability. We rely on hundreds of different products each day, from the smoke detectors we trust for our safety at night, the appliances we cook with, the food and medications we consume, and even the parts to our vehicles. The manufacturers and distributors of each of these products have a responsibility to ensure that the products do not pose unreasonable risks to consumers when used according to label instructions. Failure to do so can result in liability if a consumer dies due to a product defect.
Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect. The St. Louis metropolitan area has more than 180 nursing homes. Only eight of those facilities scored a 5 out of 5 in quality measures, as analyzed by U.S. News & World Report. Individuals place a lot of trust in the staff members at area nursing homes; they have the lives of elderly and vulnerable loved ones in their hands. Federal and state laws require the licensing and training of staff and the provision of care needed to meet the medical and social needs of residents.
Unfortunately, nursing homes frequently suffer from understaffing, and staff members often have tremendous responsibility thrust upon them without being properly vetted or trained for that position. This leads to incidences of physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect of the residents’ needs, including the proper administration of medication, supervision to prevent falls or elopement, and freedom from harm caused by other residents or staff members.
Intentional Acts. While most wrongful death claims result from negligence, such as a traffic accident caused by a distracted driver, the civil claims process constitutes the appropriate avenue for family members to seek compensation after a death that resulted from an intentional act, as well. The types of intentional acts that could give rise to a wrongful death claim include deaths resulting from an assault or domestic abuse, as well as deaths caused to others during the commission of a crime, such as a bank robber causing a serious traffic accident while trying to flee the police.
Workplace Accidents. Workplace accidents constitute a major source of fatal injury, particularly in industries like construction and shipping. Victims of most workplace accidents pursue compensation through a worker’s compensation claim. Missouri’s worker’s compensation program involves most employers in the state purchasing a no-fault worker’s compensation policy that provides coverage of the expenses and impacts that result from an injury or illness that occurred in the workplace.
In exchange for this policy, Missouri workers generally cannot seek compensation for their injuries through the personal injury claims process. A few exceptions exist, however, including deaths resulting from the negligence of a third party (someone other than your employer or co-worker).
In addition to medical coverage and wage replacement, Missouri’s worker’s compensation provides survivor benefits to the family members of individuals who suffer fatal injuries in the workplace. These benefits include two-thirds of the average wages the deceased worker earned before death as well as up to $5,000 for burial and funeral expenses.
The experienced attorneys at The Bruning Law Firm can assist you in determining the most appropriate source from which to seek compensation and can also assist you with your claim for survivor benefits, if applicable.
Seeking Compensation Through a St. Louis Wrongful Death Lawsuit
To seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit, you generally must file your claim within three years of the date on which the death occurred, a timeline known as the statute of limitations. We should note that while the at-fault party may bear the liability for the accident, the claim usually names the provider of the at-fault party’s applicable insurance policy as well.
Insurance companies pay the vast majority of personal injury and wrongful death settlements. While you certainly can file a claim against an uninsured party and even obtain a judgment in your favor, you may struggle to actually collect the damages, as most people do not have the money to pay for someone’s accident expenses out-of-pocket.
Who Can Seek Compensation?
In Missouri, the law gives priority to lineal family members seeking compensation through a wrongful death case, such as the deceased’s spouse or children, including adopted children, stepchildren, and illegitimate children. If a minor child dies in an accident, then the parents can benefit from the legal claim. If no surviving members of the deceased’s line exist, then surviving brothers, sisters, nieces, or nephews can file the lawsuit. If no surviving family members from this group exist, but someone else may benefit from a wrongful death claim, then the court can appoint a plaintiff ad litem to seek the damages.
For What You Can Receive Compensation
Missouri allows wrongful death claimants to seek the recovery of both economic and non-economic damages. In the legal arena, the word damage refers to a payment made in compensation for the expenses (economic) and impacts (non-economic) of your loss.
Common damages claimed in St. Louis wrongful death cases include:
- The cost of funeral services and burial or cremation.
- Medical bills related to the treatment of the deceased’s final injuries,
- The value of wages and benefits the deceased would have reasonably expected to earn during their career, had they survived the accident. If the wrongful death involves a child, the court will use the parent’s wages to calculate lost wages.
- Pain and suffering that the deceased endured between the time of the accident and the time of death.
- The reasonable value of lost services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support that the deceased would have provided to their family members.
How to Prove Liability
Liability represents the legal responsibility for the harm that occurred and generally belongs to the person or entity responsible for causing the accident that led to an individual’s death.
To prove liability in a St. Louis wrongful death case, you must prove the following elements of negligence:
- The at-fault party owed the deceased a duty of care. The duty of care refers to the actions that a reasonable person would take in a given set of circumstances to protect the safety and property of others.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that contradicted the duty of care.
- The breach resulted in the accident, which caused the deceased to incur fatal injuries and his or her family members to suffer economic and psychological losses.
St. Louis Wrongful Death FAQ
Losing a loved one ranks as one of the most traumatic life events anyone will ever face. Knowing that a loved one died because of someone else’s poor decision somewhere in St. Louis adds insult to injury.
Whether you have lost a loved one because of an accident or an intentional act, your grief is looming over you, leaving you little mental space for anything else. We understand what you’re going through and stand ready to take on the burden of proving that someone else took your loved one from you.
Doing this can help you recover compensation that will make it easier for you to focus on your grief and spend time with your family, not worrying about paying the expenses associated with a loved one’s death.
Below, we’ve answered some of the most common questions we receive from our St. Louis neighbors who are in the unfortunate situation of having recently lost a loved one. While we understand speaking with a lawyer may be the last thing on your mind, you may be entitled to compensation that could help ease your suffering and financial worries.
What is a wrongful death action?
Wrongful death occurs when someone dies because of the negligence, carelessness, or recklessness of another person. A wrongful death legal cause of action seeks to compensate the family of the deceased by holding the negligent party responsible for the person’s untimely death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought against a person or company for causing your loved one’s death. You must prove that another person caused your loved one’s death by acting in some negligent manner. While this standard is lower than a criminal case, proving this will still require evidence to support your claim.
What’s the difference between wrongful death and murder?
Murder is a criminal act that the state would prosecute in criminal court. If guilty, a criminal would be sentenced for their crime. They may also be required to pay you restitution if you were an immediate family member of the deceased.
However, the amount of money they would be required to pay would not come close to what you likely face for your loved one’s final expenses. That’s why filing a wrongful death claim in civil court is crucial to making sure your family gets the financial compensation necessary.
In a civil case, the person who ultimately contributed to the death of your loved one could be found liable, not guilty like in a criminal case. If liability lies with this other person, then they may be required to pay your larger sums of money that cover both economic and non-economic damages you face.
The burden of proof between these two is also different. In a criminal case, the state must prove that the defendant intended to kill. But in a civil case, while you must prove the other person did something that resulted in your loved one’s death, you only need to show they acted negligently, instead of with actual intent.
What accidents can cause a wrongful death?
Car accidents are the leading cause of wrongful death claims. Whether someone was driving drunk, speeding, or running a red light, car accident deaths are all too common. A lesser-known cause, however, is medical malpractice. In fact, medical malpractice is the third leading cause of all wrongful death claims.
Other common causes include:
- Nursing home negligence
- Pedestrian accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Defective products
- Gunshots and violence
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
Under Missouri law, only certain people can file a wrongful death claim when someone dies at the hands of another.
The priority for people who can file a wrongful death claim is the deceased’s:
- Children’s descendants
If none of the people listed above are alive, then Missouri law allows a surviving sibling or their descendants to bring a wrongful death claim. If no one is alive in that category, then the state will appoint someone to represent the heirs of the decedent in the wrongful death action. This person is usually someone entitled to a share of the proceeds of a successful wrongful death action, like a niece or someone named in the decedent’s will.
How do I prove a death was wrongful?
To successfully prove a wrongful death claim in Missouri, you must prove:
- Someone else acted negligently, carelessly, or recklessly
- Their actions caused an accident
- Where your loved one died
- As a result of your loved one’s death, you have incurred monetary damages
If your loved one died in a car accident, for example, it might seem simple to prove. However, just because you know something to be true does not mean it is true to a legal standard. This is why you need to have a trusted and skilled St. Louis wrongful death attorney guiding you through this process.
You need a legal advocate who can help you get the evidence necessary to build a strong case against the negligent party. If your loved one perished under suspicious circumstances or in a terrible accident, you may even require experts to investigate your loved one’s death to make an accurate determination of who was the precise cause.
All of this will take time and skill, while your legal team works diligently to get the evidence necessary to prove that someone else caused your loved one’s death.
What damages are available in a wrongful death claim?
The whole point of filing a wrongful death claim is to collect compensation from the person who caused your loved one’s death. We know that no amount of money will bring your loved one back, take away your pain, or help you heal faster.
However, money will ensure that you do not face financial hardship because of your loved one’s death. If your claim is successful, you may collect compensation for:
- Funeral expenses
- Burial expenses
- Final medical expenses
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of financial support
Many times, the last point can add a substantial amount to your possible recovery. If your loved one was the breadwinner in your family, for example, and they still had many working years left, you may have a legitimate reason to seek millions of dollars in recovery.
To determine an accurate amount of the salary lost, however, would require expert guidance from a financial professional. A skilled wrongful death lawyer in St. Louis will have connections in the area to help you get a rough estimate of the financial support you lost from the untimely death of your loved one.
Damages could also be available in large sums if the deceased was not the primary breadwinner in your family. In many families, one spouse stays home to raise the children or provides home-care or other caregiving services. Just because this person may not have earned a salary does not mean they contributed nothing to the family. As a result, their loss of caregiving services is compensable. At what amount, however, may require more analysis from financial professionals.
A quick note on medical malpractice wrongful death claims in Missouri. If your loved one died because of medical negligence, Missouri law limits how much money you can receive. All other wrongful death claims, however, have no monetary cap.
How long does a wrongful death claim take?
There are numerous factors at play to answer this question. It can take anywhere from a few months to years to successfully end a wrongful death claim. The more serious the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death, the more likely it is to take longer to resolve. The more complex the cause of your loved one’s death, the more likely it is to take longer to resolve.
For example, if your loved one died due to medical malpractice, an investigation might be required to determine whether the doctor made a mistake, whether a defective medical device was used, or any other reason that could have played a part.
Ultimately, conducting a thorough investigation into your loved one’s death and figuring out, with precision, the cause of their death will help you wrap up the wrongful death claim faster.
Another key to how long your wrongful death claim takes is the involvement of an insurance company. If your loved one died in a car accident, medical malpractice, workplace accident, or any other cause, you may find an insurance company involved. The at-fault driver’s insurance company, for example, may call to offer you a quick settlement after they have learned of your loved one’s death.
This might come as welcome news. You have bills to pay related to your loved one’s death, and this money will help you cover those. However, the insurance company is not looking out for your best interests. In fact, their goal is to settle your case for as little as possible, without regard to whether the settlement offers you enough money to cover all of the necessary expenses.
That’s why you need an aggressive legal advocate at your side who can take on the responsibility of negotiating with the insurance company, working to get you maximum compensation. At this tragic time, you need to grieve and spend time with your family, remembering your loved one. With the right legal team, you can do just that and not worry about how you cover all of the expenses related to your loved one’s untimely death.
Do I have to file a wrongful death claim soon?
Yes. Every state sets a certain time limit on how long you have to file a wrongful death claim after the death of a loved one. Under Missouri law, that time is just three years from the date of your loved one’s death. While this might seem like a long time, it’s best if you act fast.
Over time, evidence of how your loved one died can go missing. Witnesses to an accident where your loved one died can forget what they saw. Your legal team also needs time to gather all of the evidence, review it, and speak with interested parties to make sure they can build a strong case against the person who has caused you so much pain.
Speaking with a lawyer might be the last thing on your mind after losing a loved one. But the sooner you speak with a St. Louis wrongful death lawyer, the sooner you can put this whole ordeal behind you.
Why do I need a lawyer?
A skilled wrongful death lawyer in St. Louis can provide you with compassionate and experienced legal guidance. The right attorney can make a difference in the outcome of your wrongful death claim. These are complex cases requiring a keen eye and strict attention to detail.
While getting compensation will not bring your loved one back, it can help you move forward by not having to worry about the financial obligations left behind. Instead, you can focus on your grief, focus on your family, and focus on your healing.
Let a St. Louis Wrongful Death Lawyer Help With Your Case
With more than 35 years of assisting Missouri families in recovering compensation after the loss of a loved one as a result of someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, The Bruning Law Firm stands ready to provide compassionate and quality services aimed at assisting you in obtaining the maximum amount of compensation available for your family.
For a free case evaluation, contact us online or by calling (314) 735-8100. During your case evaluation, you can discuss the details of your loss, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation through a wrongful death claim. Don’t delay; reach out to us today!
The Bruning Law Firm
555 Washington Ave Ste 600A,
St. Louis, MO 63101
“AJ and team were so delightful to work with. They were very responsive to all emails and phone calls. I always knew which step we were on in the process of getting my lawsuit settled. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the amount the settlement was for was twice that of the original coverage of the insurance company. I don’t know how they did it but I am very pleased with the service they provided. Hands down easiest process, and people to deal with. 100% recommend if you have a personal injury case to be worked. Hopefully I won’t need their services again, but if I do I won’t hesitate to call.” – Amanda W.
Rating: 5/5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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