The right to legal recourse following the wrongful death of a loved one in Missouri is provided by statute. Specifically, the exclusive classes of individuals who may sue for wrongful death is enumerated in V.A.M.S. 537.080:
Whenever the death of a person results from any act, conduct, occurrence, transaction, or circumstances which, if death had not ensued, would have entitled such person to recover damages in respect thereof, the person or party who, or the corporation which, would have been liable if death had not ensued shall be liable in any action for damages, notwithstanding the death of the person injured, which damages may be sued for:
1) By the spouse or children or the surviving lineal descendants of any deceased children, natural or adopted, legitimate or illegitimate, or by the father or mother of the deceased, natural or adoptive;
2) If there be no persons in class (1) entitled to bring the action, then by the brother or sister of the deceased, or their descendants, who can establish his or her right to those damages set out in section 537.090 because of the death;
3) If there be no person in class (1) or (2) entitled to bring the action, then by a plaintiff ad litem. Such plaintiff ad litem shall be appointed by the court having jurisdiction of the action for damages provided in this section upon application of some person entitled to share in the proceeds of such action. Such plaintiff ad litem shall be some suitable person competent to prosecute such action and whose appointment is requested on behalf of those persons entitled to share in the proceeds of such action. Such court may, in its discretion, require that such plaintiff ad litem give bond for the faithful performance of his duties.
Missouri case law has held that both the decedent’s adopted and illegitimate children are members of the first class of plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim. Holt v. Burlington N. RR., 685 S.W.2d 851 (Mo.App.W.D.1984). Unfortunately, Missouri Courts have rejected the standing of stepchildren in wrongful death claims for their stepparents.Id. This hard line distinction could lead to unjust results where dependent stepchildren are denied recourse for the wrongful death of their stepparent.
To address this problem, Missouri courts may employ a legal device known as equitable adoption. Where applicable, the date of adoption may relate back prior to the death of the stepparent, thereby creating standing for the dependent stepchild in the wrongful death claim.
It is important to note that equitable adoption does not have equal legal status with legal adoption. Id. Furthermore, standing in a wrongful death case can be unavailable to a dependent stepchild, if the judge would determine factors considered do not show the child will suffer great financial detriment. While no one imagines they will be the victim of wrongful death, it would be well-advised for parents of dependent stepchildren to consider legal adoption in order to fully protect their stepchild’s rights should the child suffer the loss of his or her stepparent due to negligence of a third party.
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one due to the negligence of a third party, you may have a right to legal recourse. It is very important to note that time is of the essence. Call Finney Law Office right away at (314) 646-0300 for a free consultation.