If you recently lost a loved one through a traumatic accident or criminal act, you know better than anyone that no amount of money can make up for the immense impact their loss will have on your life. However, a civil lawsuit could help minimize the financial and personal harm this tragedy may cause you and your family members. If you’re unfamiliar with how Missouri state law governs this sort of claim, you may have a hard time getting the justice you and your family deserve.
One of the most important things to understand about wrongful death lawsuits is that not everyone who shared a close personal or even a family relationship with a deceased person can file suit over their death. Below is a brief overview of how state law addresses who can sue for wrongful death in Missouri. A compassionate and knowledgeable lawyer at OnderLaw can explain in more detail and address your individual situation during a private consultation.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Missouri?
Missouri Revised Statutes § 537.080 is the specific section of state law that most directly answers the question of who can file suit after a wrongful death occurs. This law says that the following immediate family members of a deceased person have legal standing to pursue a wrongful death claim:
- The person’s surviving spouse
- The person’s surviving child(ren)
- Surviving children of the person’s children
- The person’s surviving parent(s)
Any of these individuals may bring a claim solely on their own behalf or on behalf of all surviving family members. However, a deceased person’s sibling(s) cannot file a wrongful death claim unless there are no surviving relatives in any of the categories listed above. Other family members—like aunts, uncles, and cousins—generally cannot start or recover through wrongful death claims. Additionally, stepchildren generally cannot recover money for the wrongful death of a stepparent, and vice versa.
What If There Are No Surviving Family Members?
If there are no surviving family members who meet any of the criteria listed above, that doesn’t mean a wrongful death claim cannot be pursued. Instead, the court can appoint someone to act as what is called a plaintiff ad litem. This person is usually a close family friend or relative, but sometimes a plaintiff ad litem is a legal professional or someone else the court feels can be trusted to act in the best interests of the person who has died and their estate.
Importantly, though, the court cannot just assign a plaintiff ad litem without a formal request made to the court by someone entitled to share in the proceeds of a claim, as per MO Rev. Stat. § 537.080.
Filing Deadlines for Wrongful Death Cases
Another thing worth noting when it comes to filing a wrongful death claim in Missouri is the time limit for filing. Unlike most personal injury claims in this state—which generally have a filing period of five years after an injury first occurs—the deadline for wrongful death lawsuits is three years after the day the person died, as established under MO Rev. Stat. § 537.100. This shorter deadline can make it especially important for anyone who wants to build a strong claim to seek help from a trusted wrongful death attorney.
If you lost a family member or loved one due to someone else’s careless or reckless actions, we offer our deepest condolences. Our legal team at OnderLaw is prepared to help you and your family seek justice. Call us for a free, private consultation with one of our caring legal professionals.