Answered by Christopher Combs in Wrongful Death on April 01, 2021.

If someone near and dear to you has recently died in an accident, you are assuredly dealing with a lot of emotions: grief, pain, sadness, and a deep sense of loss. If their accident came through no fault of their own, you can probably add anger and a desire for justice into that equation.

Many people who have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party contact an experienced wrongful death attorney and file a wrongful death lawsuit to hopefully gain closure and receive restitution for the death of a family member. But not just anyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri. Combs Waterkotte is here to explain the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit, who’s eligible to do so, and a special circumstance in some wrongful death cases.

How Missouri Handles Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death lawsuits in Missouri are governed by Missouri Revised Statute 537.080. It establishes who has legal standing to bring a wrongful death lawsuit and groups them into three classes:

  • Class 1 is defined as the immediate family of the deceased. These are their spouse, children, grandchildren, or parents. The law puts adopted children and parents on the same footing as natural family, as well.
  • Class 2 is composed of blood relatives of the deceased. These are brothers, sisters, or their children (i.e. the deceased’s nieces or nephews).
  • Class 3 is what is known as a plaintiff ad litem. This is a person appointed by a court at the request of individuals who have legal heirs to the deceased, such as the deceased’s cousins or aunts/uncles.

In Missouri, people in Class 1 are given the first opportunity to bring a wrongful death suit. If no one from Class 1 comes forward, then the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit opens up to include Class 2 individiuals. If no one from either of those classes decides to file a lawsuit, then a plantiff ad litem can be authorized to take the claim. Not anyone can serve as a plaintiff ad litem, though: Missouri law requires it to be “some suitable person competent to prosecute such action”, usually a lawyer. This person also may be required to pay a bond to ensure they are considered trustworthy by a court and will act in the best interest of the deceased’s heirs.

If an accident had multiple deaths, any plantiff can bring a suit so long as they had made every attempt to notify any and all parties who had a cause of action to bring a wrongful death claim. However, anyone who fits into either Classes 1 or 2 can join the lawsuit at any time in a process called an intervention. Double jeopardy also applies to wrongful death cases–the same person can only be sued for the death of the same person once.

It is also possible that wrongful death lawsuits will take place at the same time as criminal proceedings against the person whose negligence caused the death of a loved one. People who have filed civil suits may be asked to testify in criminal cases, but other than that the two cases will not affect each other.

Hire An Experienced St. Louis Wrongful Death Lawyer

If you are a member of an eligible class and are considering whether or not to file a wrongful death lawsuit, don’t waste your time. Wrongful death cases have statutes of limitations and you will also want to ensure all your rights are protected following the death of a loved one.

Combs Waterkotte understands that filiing a wrongful death lawsuit is often a deeply personal process. You are feeling thoughts and emotions you never thought you’d experience. We listen to our clients and guide them through all the steps of a wrongful death lawsuit, both inside the courtroom and outside. Call us today at (314) 900-HELP to discuss your wrongful death case for free.


Wrongful Death