Wrongful death. It’s an area of law that occurs when a person dies as a result of negligence, or misconduct of another person, or by a company, or by some other entity. Wrongful death cases can arise out of a number of different situations, including automobile accidents, trucking accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, dangerous conditions, etc.
Interviewer: What are the most common ways that occurs?
Kevin Roach: The most common types of wrongful death cases I see are those involving auto, or trucking accidents, or motorcycle accidents. Those are the most common wrongful death cases that I see.
Interviewer: How long have you been working wrongful death cases? How many years?
Kevin Roach: I’ve been handling wrongful death cases for over fourteen years.
Interviewer: Who can bring a wrongful death suit?
Kevin Roach: The proper party to bring a wrongful death action in Missouri is governed by Section 537.8008, it’s 537.080 that is the wrongful death statute in Missouri. Whenever the death of a person results from an act, conduct, occurrence, there are categories of people that can bring suit. It’s really broken down into three categories.
The first category of people who could bring suit in a wrongful, or make claim, in a wrongful death claim are those by a surviving spouse, or child of the person who has died. It can also be brought by the father or mother of the deceased. Basically the first category would be a spouse, children, and your parents. The second category of people, if there’s nobody in class one, then it goes to class two. Class two would be brothers or sisters of the deceased.
If there’s no person in class one or class two, then a plaintiff ad litem can be appointed. This is all enumerated in the Missouri Wrongful Death Statute section 537.080 which gives much more detail on who can file suit, obviously I’m not going into total detail on every exception there may be, but that’s generally who can file suit.
Interviewer: How is the amount of damages determined?
Kevin Roach: In Missouri, there are damages that are recovered such as pecuniary damages. Those that are funeral expenses, medical bills, support. If someone passed away, had an income and your spouse may have been dependent on that income, you can estimate what the loss of income would’ve been, and those are pecuniary damages.
Interviewer: Is that the same as punitive?
Kevin Roach: No, it’s not punitive. Pecuniary damages are basically, money, that’s basically what it boils down to. Money that someone would’ve earned during their lifetime, it’s basically what they are. If there are funeral expenses, medical expenses, money that someone would’ve been made during their lifetime.
There are non-pecuniary damages as well, those are companionship, and those non-monetary damages that you can recover based on your relationship with your spouse, or the deceased. Those are non-pecuniary damages, and in Missouri there’s no cap on those damages.
There’s also, in Missouri, you can also recover a third type of damages, those are punitive damages. In order to recover punitive damages in Missouri you have to show aggravating circumstances, aggravating or mitigating circumstances. This is permissible in Missouri wrongful death cases, and there’s no cap on those damages.
You have to meet the burden, you have to show that there was willful and wanton misconduct, recklessness, basically you have to show that the conduct that resulted in the death, that it was highly likely that the conduct was going to cause harm. If someone acts in a willful … engaged in willful misconduct, and is extremely reckless then you can, in Missouri, recover punitive damages.
Interviewer: What are some examples of punitive damages?
Kevin Roach: One example would be if there was a drunk driver who caused the death of another person through their behavior of driving drunk, was willfully engaged, the recklessness misconduct of driving their car that resulted in the death of another. That can be one example of punitive damages. Or for instance if someone was going at a very high rate of speed, if there was a truck going at a very high rate of speed and their behavior was so reckless that it may rise to the level of triggering punitive damages. Those are two examples that I can think of off the top of my head.