“Wrongful death” is a legal doctrine that covers the death of one person by someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or unlawful action. Every state has its own wrongful death laws governing civil actions. Surviving family members must abide by these laws to qualify for compensation from the at-fault party. These lawsuits can be complex, depending on the circumstances of the individual’s death. The Kansas City personal injury attorneys at Wendt Law Firm P.C. want to help you and your family during this difficult time.
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Wrongful Death Laws in Missouri and Kansas
The rules for filing a wrongful death claim in Kansas City will change depending on your state. In Kansas, any “heirs of the deceased” may file these types of claims. This may include a spouse, children, parents, or siblings. These parties have two years from the date of the death to file the claim. There is a non-economic damage cap of $250,000 on these lawsuits in Kansas. This means that recovery for damages such as pain and suffering may not surpass $250,000.
In Missouri, the first party with the right to file wrongful death is the surviving spouse. From there, surviving adult children or grandchildren may file. If these parties don’t exist, the parents of the deceased may file, followed by surviving siblings or a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. A party has three years from the date of death to file in Missouri. Missouri also has a cap on non-economic damages. The plaintiff cannot recover more than $350,000 (adjusted for inflation every year) for these damages.
An experienced Kansas City wrongful death attorney will have extensive knowledge about these legal processes in your state. It’s important to retain a personal injury lawyer with experience in your locale – otherwise, you could risk missing an important deadline or hurting your chances of compensation. Wendt Law Firm P.C. has practiced this area of law for decades throughout the entire Kansas City region. We know a lawsuit won’t bring back your loved one, but it can go a long way toward helping your family recover.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
Anytime one person or company’s negligent or willful actions cause fatal injuries, surviving family members may be able to pursue lawsuits. This can occur after car accidents, workplace accidents, criminal actions, product liability incidents, medical malpractice, slips and falls, animal attacks, accidental drowning, and any other situation that leads to death. While not every death is grounds for a lawsuit, deaths that proper care could have prevented are. To find out if your loved one’s passing has merit as a civil claim in either Kansas or Missouri, talk to our experienced Kansas City wrongful death attorneys.
An investigation of your loved one’s death could uncover the sad truth – that the fatal injury was preventable with due diligence. It can be hard to accept the preventable death of a loved one. Pursuing a civil claim against the party responsible for the fatal accident can provide closure and peace to surviving family members. It can also lead to significant compensation for lost companionship, lost income, mental anguish, funeral/burial expenses, and many other economic and non-economic damages. To learn more about your individual case and speak to a Kansas City wrongful death attorney, contact our firm today.
“I have nothing but praise for Rosalie and the other Wendt Law Firm employees I dealt with. Thank you guys for going above and beyond for me!” – Logan
Proving Wrongful Death or How Negligence Led to Wrongful Death
Receiving financial compensation for the unexpected death of a loved one relies on your ability to prove your claim in the Missouri or Kansas courts. Kansas City judges and juries need to see specific elements and evidence that supports your wrongful death lawsuit to find the defendant liable for damages. While every claim is unique, the basic elements for proving wrongful death remain the same. The plaintiff must prove the following elements:
Duty of care.
Evidence that the defendant owed the deceased person a duty of care can be relatively simple to collect. Most relationships come with inherent duties of care. Drivers, employers, product manufacturers, doctors, pet owners, property owners, and other parties all owe certain duties of care to others. You must prove that the defendant owed your loved one certain duties of care under the circumstances of the accident.
Breach of duty of care.
Once you establish the defendant’s duty of care, you must prove that he or she breached this duty. This element is often the most difficult to prove. You need evidence of a breach of duty, such as an act of negligence, wrongdoing, or intent to harm. Anything the defendant did that fell short of his/her duties of care to the decedent could fulfill the requirements of a breach.
The plaintiff must then demonstrate that the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate, or main, cause of the wrongful death. Many courts use the “but for” rule to determine causation: the death would not have happened but for the defendant’s actions. You might not have a case against a doctor, for example, if a defective medical device caused a loved one’s death. (You may have a claim against the device manufacturer instead in this example.)
A fourth element – damages – exists in most personal injury claims, but generally does not play an important role in wrongful death claims. A wrongful death claim implies that a plaintiff’s family member died as a result of the defendant’s actions. Death is a real, compensable damage in Kansas City courts. Working with the Kansas City wrongful death lawyers at Wendt Law Firm P.C. can make proving your claim much simpler for you and your family during this difficult time. We can navigate state laws, gather evidence, and present a strong case against the responsible party.
Compensation for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
No two wrongful death claims are alike. Each can result in different types and amounts of damages, or compensation. State restrictions, the extent of damage, and the circumstances of the fatal accident can all impact how much a claim is worth in Kansas City. In general, three types of wrongful death compensation exist:
Pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages refer to those the court might have awarded the deceased person had he or she survived the incident and filed a personal injury claim. They include the victim’s economic losses such as lost wages and medical bills, as well as damages the family incurred upon the death of the loved one. Pecuniary damages can include lost inheritance, funeral and burial costs, medical bills, and property damages.
Non-pecuniary damages. Non-pecuniary damages are not as easy to calculate as pecuniary ones, as they are not economic. Instead, they refer to harms such as mental anguish, pain and suffering, distress, bereavement, loss of consortium, and psychological harm the family suffered.
Punitive damages. The courts might award punitive damages in addition to standard damages in some cases. This type of compensation serves to punish the perpetrator for gross negligence, malicious wrongdoing, or intent to harm (such as in homicide or murder wrongful death claims).
In Missouri, a wrongful death claim dealing with medical malpractice comes with a $700,000 cap on pain and suffering damages. Wrongful death claims for reasons other than medical malpractice do not have caps. In Kansas, the cap for wrongful death claims is $250,000, other than pecuniary losses an heir sustains. Working with a qualified wrongful death attorney in Kansas City, MO can help maximize your compensation, even with damage caps.
Comparative Fault in Kansas and Missouri
Missouri is a pure comparative law state, which means the courts will reduce the award of a victim by his or her percentage of fault. Kansas, as a modified comparative law state, works a little differently. This means that, for the surviving party or parties to claim damages, the party the suit filed against must carry more than 50% of the fault for the incident. If the family can’t prove the party carries 50% or more of the fault, the settlement decreases depending on the percentage of fault. Each percentage of determined fault leads to a larger settlement payout for the heirs of the deceased.
In 2015, unintentional injury deaths were the fourth highest cause of death in the United States, at 146,571 deaths.
Unintentional falls accounted for 33,381 of those deaths, motor vehicle accidents for 37,757 deaths, and unintentional poisoning for 47,478 deaths.
If your loved one was a victim of wrongful death, contact our law office for a free consultation. Our Kansas City wrongful death lawyers have successfully recovered over $100 million for our clients in Kansas and Missouri.
What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Homicide?
The grief and trauma of losing a loved one can make it difficult to think clearly about how to proceed with your case: you might not understand the specifics of the loss or the legal matters that come along with a fatal incident in Kansas City. One important distinction is that between wrongful death and homicide. Two different legal systems have jurisdiction over each type of claim. One can help your family while the other punishes the wrongdoer. Learning the difference can help your family evaluate your options and choose the best legal action.
A “wrongful death” claim can stem from an accident. Wrongful death can arise from intent to harm or kill, but it can also describe unintentional, accidental, or negligent actions. Even if someone did not mean to cause an accident or death, he or she could face liability for the death due to a negligent or careless act on the defendant’s part. Wrongful death cases are civil claims the Kansas City civil courts hear. They can result in financial recovery for the deceased person’s estate and surviving family members if the plaintiff can prove the defendant’s fault for the death.
Homicide, or murder, refers to the intentional, deliberate, and unlawful killing of one person by another. A homicide case goes through Kansas City’s criminal courts. The decedent’s family members do not file homicide charges. Instead, the state prosecutes suspects and presses homicide charges. A homicide conviction will result in penalties and punishments for the perpetrator, not in compensation for the family. The burden of proof in a homicide case is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wrongful death and homicide cases may go hand-in-hand if a criminal deliberately caused your loved one’s death. It is possible to win a criminal case and lose a wrongful death claim, and vice versa. In the infamous O.J. Simpson case, for example, the courts found the defendant not guilty of the crime but liable for wrongful death. A criminal conviction can help you prove your wrongful death claim. It is possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit at the same time as an ongoing homicide investigation or trial in Kansas City.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help Maximize Your Claim
A dedicated wrongful death lawyer can help with every aspect of your Kansas City wrongful death claim, including meeting the state’s strict deadlines and filing requirements, collecting evidence, and building a case for the civil courts. Your attorney will take care of your case while you concentrate on grieving with your family and mourning the loss of your loved one.
A Kansas City wrongful death lawyer is invaluable when it comes to maximizing the results of your claim. Many times, insurance companies will not voluntarily pay what is deserved for a wrongful death claim. Legal representation during insurance settlement negotiations can pressure insurance companies to offer greater amounts for your family’s irrevocable loss. Trial-tested lawyers can also take the defendant to court – something most defendants wish to avoid, as it can be costlier.
The knowledge that a plaintiff can go to court often results in better case outcomes, even if the case never makes it to trial. Hiring a dedicated Kansas City personal injury lawyer can ensure insurance companies don’t take advantage of you or get away with lowball settlement offers. It often levels the playing field and puts the power in your hands during compensation negotiations. While you spend time with your family, Wendt Law Firm P.C. will work to maximize your claim.