Losing a loved one unexpectedly is traumatic enough without having to fight for justice. Yet when the death occurs due to another party’s negligence or misconduct, filing a wrongful death lawsuit may be necessary and prudent. These cases can quickly become complex, especially when determining liability across multiple defendants or in light of the deceased’s preexisting medical conditions. This guide takes an in-depth look at key considerations around proving liability in Missouri wrongful death cases.
Understanding Wrongful Death Claims in Missouri
In Missouri, certain family members (such as spouses, children, or parents of the deceased) can bring a civil lawsuit against a person, entity, or multiple defendants responsible for causing the wrongful death of their relative. A successful case can provide these bereaved plaintiffs with tangible damages that aim to compensate for grievous emotional, mental, and financial losses.
To ultimately prevail in a Missouri wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must conclusively prove four key elements:
- Duty of Care – The defendant (or defendants) owed a legal duty of care to the now deceased person based on relationships, circumstances, customs, laws, and other factors.
- Breach of Duty – The defendant breached their duty of care through negligence, misconduct, malice, or other lapses. Common breaches include medical malpractice, defective products, reckless driving, supervision failures, and safety procedure violations.
- Causation – The defendant’s breach of duty directly caused injury or death. Or in medical cases, significantly reduced the deceased’s chance of survival due to errors, delays, or substandard treatment.
- Quantifiable Damages – As a direct result of the death, the plaintiffs experienced tangible emotional, mental, and financial damages subject to compensation under Missouri statutes.
Attorneys must holistically prove all four elements through evidence and arguments to establish liability in a wrongful death suit.
Common Complexities – Multiple Defendants and Preexisting Conditions
Often, wrongful death cases involve dividing liability across several negligent parties. For example:
- Vehicle crashes causing a fatality can involve multiple negligent drivers, faulty vehicle manufacturers, contractors responsible for improper road design or maintenance, and more.
- Medical malpractice lawsuits may need to parse accountability across nurses, physicians, hospital administrators, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and additional stakeholders that contributed to substandard care.
- In toxic torts, harm and resulting death stemming from long-term chemical or asbestos exposure may require balancing liability across producers that violated safety protocols, distributors that knowingly failed to warn about risks, property owners that allowed dangerous exposure levels, and employers that did not adequately protect workers.
Successfully investigating, strategizing, and proving shared liability across multiple defendants adds an extra layer of complexity versus cases with a single defendant. Missouri follows pure comparative negligence doctrines, meaning wrongful death plaintiffs can still recover partial damages even if the deceased acted negligently and contributed somewhat to their own demise. But any compensation they receive decreases in proportion to the percentage of fault attributed to the deceased party. Savvy plaintiffs’ attorneys know how to effectively argue for minimizing the deceased’s contributory negligence.
Preexisting medical conditions, illnesses, and diseases in the deceased further complicate Missouri wrongful death suits, especially in medical malpractice cases. Defendants often try arguing that a critical illness, disease, or chronic condition primarily caused or substantially contributed to the patient’s death. In their view, any negligent medical treatment, misdiagnosis, or delayed care was secondary and less impactful. Successfully rebutting this common line of defense falls on the plaintiffs’ lawyers, who must rigorously establish liability and causation beyond the shadow of doubt raised by disease-related complications.
Strategic Steps Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Take to Prove Liability
With so much at stake for grieving families, constructing a compelling liability-focused case is paramount. Working with qualified Missouri wrongful death attorneys well-versed in building strong cases greatly improves the odds for justice and adequate compensation. Among the strategic steps plaintiffs’ lawyers will take are:
Obtaining Crucial Evidence – Collecting critical documentation like medical records, police reports, product safety testing reports, workplace procedures and inspection reports, and other investigative evidence establishes a foundation to determine liability. An experienced plaintiffs’ attorney knows exactly what pertinent evidence to gather, how to decipher technical documentation, and ultimately how to utilize it for arguments around negligence and causation. Pre-trial discovery and investigations focus heavily on securing key liability-proving evidence.
Proving Negligent Behavior – At its core, successfully proving liability in wrongful death cases requires conclusively demonstrating that the defendant (or defendants) had a legal duty of care to the deceased and clearly breached this duty through negligence or otherwise avoidable misconduct. Actions like failing to follow procedures, disregarding safety precautions, refusing medical care, intentional harm, policy violations, and shoddy work all can constitute negligent breaches of duty depending on the specifics of each case. Plaintiff attorneys aim to uncover clear examples of inappropriate, careless, or willful actions that fall short of reasonable duty of care expectations.
Leveraging Expert Testimony – Especially in medical and product liability cases, crucial technical evidence requires matching medical, scientific, vocational, or engineering expert testimony to properly “translate” complex documentation into digestible findings for the jury. Reputable, well-credentialed experts add credibility, clarity, and significance to key arguments around negligence and causation. Finding experts who can clearly explain technical concepts and failures by defendants is invaluable.
Addressing Damage Limitations – Missouri laws limit damages in some wrongful death suits based on the plaintiff’s familial relationship to the deceased and the deceased person’s age. Qualified attorneys explore the full range of legal options to maximize potential compensation despite statutory limitations.
Pursuing Favorable Settlements – The vast majority of civil lawsuits, including wrongful death claims, settle out-of-court well before trial. To secure the most favorable settlements possible despite the complexities, an attorney experienced with wrongful death cases will aggressively negotiate through leveraging the strength of gathered evidence and testimony proving liability beyond doubt.
Proactively Seeking Accountability and Compensation
Losing a beloved family member due to the unjust negligence or misconduct of others compounds the pain of death with anger, remorse, and profound loss. Missouri wrongful death lawyers can provide dedicated support, compassion, and counsel so survivors can proactively seek proper accountability while mourning their tragic loss. By clearly establishing causation and negligence, families gain a fair chance at compensation, truth, prevention, and closure. Those grieving a preventable death should explore their legal options directly with an attorney to fully understand their rights and start building a compelling liability case right away. Time is often limited to take legal action, so don’t delay.
With 32 offices in 19 states including Missouri, Iowa and Colorado, we can help prove liability in a wrongful death lawsuit. Call today for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597.