Who is Entitled to File a Lawsuit When a Loved One Dies?

Published in Plaintiff on January 4, 2018

Lawsuits that are the result of someone’s death are generally referred to as wrongful death actions. Wrongful death cases can arise out of car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and other unfortunate situations. In some instances, family members and loved ones interested in holding responsible parties liable to pursue legal remedies by filing a civil lawsuit. In Missouri, however, only certain people are entitled to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

Missouri’s wrongful death statute can be a little difficult to understand and apply—particularly when dealing with the painful loss of a family member. If there is ever any doubt about your right to hold negligent parties legally accountable for the death of a loved one, you should consult an experienced wrongful death attorney who is familiar with this area of law.

In Missouri, there are three classes of individuals who can file a wrongful death action. Members of the second class of wrongful death plaintiffs can only file suit if there are no members of the first class. Similarly, members of the third class can only file suit if there are no members of the first or second classes. Who is included in each class?

Class 1:

Spouses, children (including adoptive children), lineal descendants of deceased children (including adoptive children), and parents (including adoptive parents).

Class 2:

Siblings or if the siblings are deceased, by the siblings’ lineal descendants where the lineal descendants suffered pecuniary losses, funeral expenses, and/or the reasonable value of the services, consortium, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, training, and support of the deceased individual. 

Class 3:

A plaintiff ad litem who the court appoints to prosecute the case on behalf of the individuals entitled to share in any damages awarded in the case.

It is important to note that Missouri law only recognizes one wrongful death action, which means that once an appropriate person files a wrongful death suit, all other members of the class of people who could have filed the wrongful death action are prohibited from doing so. For example, if a drunk driver hits me on my way home from the office tonight and kills me, and my father files a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver, my wife cannot file another lawsuit.

This means that unless she gets permission from the court to join in my father’s lawsuit as an additional plaintiff, she will not be able to participate in the case itself. She can, however, share in any judgment or settlement that ultimately is entered. To further complicate matters, any member of the appropriate class of plaintiffs can settle the case without the input of the other class members!