The loss of a family member is always extremely painful, but it can be even more so if there are questions surrounding the cause of death. In cases where someone is killed through a wrongful act or through negligence, it can be especially difficult to get closure. In these situations, in Kansas and Missouri, family members may have the option of filing a wrongful death claim.
Essentially, both laws deal with the death of a person caused by another person or company whose actions or neglect resulted in the death of someone.
There is quite a bit of misconception about wrongful death claims. If you have lost a loved one, you may wish to arrange for a free consultation with a wrongful death lawyer at the Pittsburg, Coffeyville, Kansas City, or Joplin, MO, offices of Phalen Law Firm. Our compassionate attorneys would be happy to explain the options for you.
Why Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim?
The first signs of a wrongful death aren’t often obvious. Many times families in grief simply have a feeling that something isn’t right. It may be a police report stating that their loved one wasn’t wearing a seat belt when they were ejected from a car. Families are left wondering why someone who, “always wore their seat belt” neglected to buckle up the one time it was really needed. In reality, seat belts sometimes unlatch during a collision. Only a trained expert can determine for sure.
Losing a loved one can also be very expensive. While it is difficult to think about finances at a time like this, there may be dependent children to think about. The loss of an income earner can be devastating for a family. In addition, final funeral expenses and last medical bills can be costly.
Filing a wrongful death claim can potentially secure compensation to help you pay for some of these costs and help family members get counseling or the help they need. Compensation can also help pay for children’s schooling and for other expenses a loved family member would have contributed to.
Filing a wrongful death claim will not bring a family member back. However, it will hold negligent people and companies responsible and can lead to important safety changes, which can help prevent future injuries to others. Many families find comfort in knowing that their loss leaves a safety legacy that can help other families avoid the grief they have experienced.
During a time of grieving, many families just want to move on. However, speaking to an accidental death lawyer at the Pittsburg, Coffeyville, Kansas City, KS, or Joplin, MO, offices of Phalen Law Firm may be an important part of the healing process. An attorney can help you get answers about what caused the death of a family member. This can be important if you want to get closure and move on.
Wrongful Death: What You Should Know
If you decide to sue for the wrongful death of a loved one, there are some important factors to consider. Here are answers to five common questions you may have.
1. What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death is one that is the result of a person’s or a company’s actions or negligence.
In Kansas, wrongful death is defined by law as the “death of a person caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” Missouri law defines wrongful death as “the death of a person result[ing] 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.”
Some examples of wrongful include if:
- Someone is crossing the street on a walk signal and killed by a driver
- Someone who dies as the result of a doctor’s mistake
- Someone who is killed as the result of a product’s failure — such as if a car’s brakes fail or an escalator malfunctions
2. Who Is Eligible to Sue for Wrongful Death?
In Kansas, any legal heir of the dead individual can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Those legal heirs include:
- The deceased’s surviving spouse
- The deceased’s surviving children
- The deceased’s surviving parents or grandparents
- And any of the deceased’s surviving siblings
Unlike Kansas, Missouri has no specific rules about who can file a wrongful lawsuit. So, the following is true:
- If there is a surviving, spouse, children or grandchildren, they are the first group allowed to file a wrongful death claim.
- The parents of the person who was killed may sue. If a child has been killed, the parents will almost always be the people who file the claim.
- If the deceased has no surviving representatives of the people mentioned above — spouse, children, grandchildren or parents — then if there are any surviving siblings, they may file a wrongful death lawsuit. If there are no surviving siblings, then a representative of the deceased estate can file. Otherwise, anyone who could legally share in the compensation awarded in a wrongful death claim may ask for a “plaintiff ad Litem” to be appointed by the court.
3. What Do You Need to Know to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
If you believe your loved one has died as the result of the actions or the negligence of a person or a company, you should contact the Law Office of William L. Phalen and speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney. They will help you collect the important evidence you will need to file your claim and make sure the claim is filed within the state’s statute of limitations.
4. What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Kansas and Missouri award two different types of damages in a wrongful death suit: Economic damages (known in Kansas as pecuniary damages) and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include:
- Paying for medical bills
- All funeral and burial costs
- Providing for lost wages as a result of the loved one’s death
- Compensation for the household duties the deceased may have done
- The cost of repairing any property that may have been damaged when the individual was killed
Non-economic damages can be capped. In Kansas, non-economic damages include:
- Mental anguish
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of parental care
- Loss of marital attention, care or advice
In Kansas, these damages are capped at $250,000. Missouri caps non-economic damages in wrongful death claims involving medical malpractice at $350,000.
5. Who Is Sued in a Wrongful Death Claim?
When a loved one is killed as the result of the actions or the negligence of a person or company and after speaking with an experienced lawyer you decide to file a wrongful death claim, that claim can often be brought against a wide variety of individuals, businesses, government agencies and employees of these entities.
For instance, consider a situation when a loved one is at a colleague retirement party at a local bar. They get a ride home with a friend who has had too much to drink. The drunk driver loses control of the car and it crashes through a faulty guard rail, killing your loved one. The individuals and organizations that defendants in a case like this could sue include:
- The driver who was responsible for the crash
- The company or individual that built or installed the faulty guard rail
- The employee of the bar who continued to serve alcohol after the driver had already had enough
- The owner of the bar where the event was held
In Kansas and Missouri, government agencies and their employees have immunity from lawsuits in some cases. It is best to talk to an experienced attorney in the Law Office of William L. Phalen about the best way to pursue a wrongful death claim against a government agency or a government employee.
Wrongful Death and Statute of Limitations
If you wish to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you need to pay attention to the statute of limitations in each state. If you file your wrongful death claim too late, the defendants are sure to file for dismissal of your claim, which will most likely be granted by the courts.
In Missouri, you have three years after the death of your loved one to file the lawsuit. In Kansas, you only have two years after the death of a loved one to file a wrongful death claim.
When a loved one is killed and you believe a wrongful death claim is warranted, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. This is especially true for individuals in Kansas.
Possible Damages in a Workplace Fatality
If your loved one is killed while doing their job, their survivors are eligible for compensation through the workers’ compensation insurance program. The breakdown is as follows:
- Spouse and Children in Kansas: In Kansas, the spouse and dependent children of a worker killed on the job receive a lump sum payment of $60,000 and a weekly benefit of two-thirds of the employees weekly wage (up to a maximum of $631 a week). The spouse receives 50 percent and the children receive 50 percent. The maximum amount that the spouse and children can receive including the lump sum, is $300,000. Minor children, however, continue to receive payments until they turn 18.
- Spouse and Children in Missouri: In Missouri, a surviving spouse and children receive weekly benefits off two-thirds of a deceased worker’s salary calculated using their wages the year preceding their death. When a worker dies as the result of an injury or illness unrelated to a work injury, dependent survivors are eligible to receive the benefits that accrued to the deceased worker, which is in most cases a permanent partial disability lump sum.
- Partial Dependents: If there are no survivors who were wholly dependent on the deceased worker, then others who were partially dependent may receive benefits, but these are also subject to monetary limits.
- Employer: The employer is liable for funeral and burial expenses of up to $10,000.
Wrongful Death Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides the annual statistics on the number of workers’ deaths each year in its Census of Fatal Occupational Illnesses (CFOI). While on-the-job deaths are easier to count, the number of deaths due to work-related illness is almost always under-counted:
- In 2014, the CFOI said that 4821 workers died from injuries suffered on the job. Meanwhile, an estimate for 2007 said that more than 53,000 workers may have died as the result of illnesses connected to exposure to harmful substances in their workplace.
- In 2017, the BLS reported that 5147 workers were killed on the job. That’s 99 every week and 14 every day.
- The good news is that the number of worker deaths as a result of work-related accidents is declining. In 1970, as many as 38 workers died on the job every day. As we noted above, in 2017, it was only 14.
Examples of Wrongful Death
A wrongful death can happen for many reasons — here are seven of them.
1. Car Accidents
Perhaps the best-known example of wrongful death. The negligent driver can be held responsible for the death of another driver, pedestrian, or even a passenger in their car. Take, for example, the case of tennis star Venus Williams, who was found responsible for the death of a passenger in a car she struck because she failed to yield the right of way.
2. Motorcycle Accidents
These accidents often take place when motorists follow motorcycles too closely or fail to pay attention to them when changing lanes.
3. Bicycle Accidents
Bicyclists are killed when people suddenly open doors without checking or when they are clipped by aggressive drivers who don’t want to wait to pass them when it is safe. While most bike fatalities happen in an urban setting, more are happening in rural settings as many cyclists go for long rides on weekends.
4. Pedestrian Accidents
In 2016, over 5000 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. when they were hit by a car. These accidents often happen in unsafe areas with few protections for pedestrians, which may mean the local municipality is also at fault.
5. Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice is another form of wrongful death that may be familiar to many people because of how often they are represented in TV shows or movies. Examples of medical malpractice include:
- Misdiagnosis that leads to the death of the patient
- The wrong treatment
- Medical mistakes
- Surgical errors
- Negligence by hospital staff
6. Defective Products
If someone is killed by a defective product, many different entities can be held responsible, including the product designer, the company that manufactured the product and the company that sold it.
7. Workplace Fatalities
While occupations like construction or police officer or firefighter often can have high fatality rates, a work-related death can happen on any job site. And as we saw above, work-related illnesses may cause even more deaths.
If You Believe You Have a Wrongful Death Claim, Contact the Law Office of William L. Phalen
Wrongful Death laws cover deaths resulting from misconduct by another person or company. This could be the result of an auto, plane or boat accident. These deaths could be work related, medical errors, product malfunctions, prescription drug reactions or any other negligent act. Wrongful Deaths often go undiscovered. The experienced team at The Law Office of William L Phalen will take the time to conduct a thorough investigation of underlying facts. Wrongful conduct may not be obvious and may never be discovered unless investigated by a highly specialized attorney like those at The Law Office of William L Phalen. Let us put the legal and financial resources of our experienced team on your side. We help victims seek justice. Don’t let those nagging doubts plague you. The Law Office of William L Phalen is here to answer your questions, explain your rights and help you pursue justice for your loved one.
If you think you may have a wrongful death claim, contact Phalen Law Firm for a free consultation. You can reach us by calling 800-235-1807 or 620-235-1806. Speaking to an attorney can help you understand whether you have a claim. An attorney at Phalen Law Firm can review the specifics of your case. If your family member’s passing was caused by someone’s negligence, you may have a claim and can pursue compensation to pay for medical costs and other expenses.
Our attorneys can offer you support in English and Spanish, and we will assign a paralegal or legal assistant to you if you work with us, ensuring you always have someone you can contact and speak to about the progress of your case.