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What Happens When a Loved One Is Killed by a Drunk Driver?

The Morris Firm Dec. 13, 2023

Drunk Female Driver Causes Road AccidentThe sudden loss of a loved one due to a drunk driving accident is an immeasurable tragedy. The shock, grief, and confusion that follow can be overwhelming. It's a harsh reality that no one should ever have to face. However, it's important to know that if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, you are not alone and there are legal avenues available to seek justice.

Attorney Raphael Morris and his team at The Morris Firm understand the emotional turmoil and financial strain these tragic incidents can cause. Located in St. Louis, Missouri, and serving clients throughout St. Charles, Jefferson County, and St. Charles County, the firm offers seasoned legal representation to families grappling with such profound losses. With nearly two decades of experience, attorney Raphael Morris is committed to seeking justice for families affected by drunk driving accidents and helping them navigate the complex legal landscape. 

Why File a Wrongful Death Claim?

When tragedy strikes, it's natural to seek answers, justice, and closure. Filing a wrongful death claim can provide these while also offering financial relief during a difficult time. Here are key reasons why you might consider filing a wrongful death claim: 

  • Compensation for Losses: A wrongful death claim can help cover medical expenses related to the deceased's final illness or injury, funeral and burial costs, and lost wages and benefits. It also compensates for non-economic damages like loss of companionship. 

  • Accountability: This claim holds the responsible party accountable for their actions. By filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you're helping to enforce safety regulations and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. 

  • Closure and Healing: The legal process can provide a sense of closure and justice that helps many families move forward. 

  • Preserving the Deceased's Legacy: A successful claim can safeguard the deceased's legacy by ensuring their dependents are financially secure. 

Even though no amount of money can bring back your loved one, seeking justice can be extremely beneficial during these trying times.  

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Missouri?

In Missouri, not everyone is legally entitled to file a wrongful death claim. The right to take legal action is primarily reserved for the closest relatives of the deceased. These include: 

  • The surviving spouse: If the deceased was married at the time of death, their spouse is typically the first in line to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

  • Parents: In the tragic event of a child's death, their parents are eligible to bring a wrongful death claim. 

  • Children: If the deceased has surviving children, whether biological or legally adopted, they have the right to file a claim. 

In case there is no surviving spouse, parents, or children, the following parties may be eligible: 

  • Siblings or their descendants: A brother, sister, niece, or nephew of the deceased can step in to file a wrongful death claim if no immediate family members exist. 

  • Plaintiff ad litem: If no eligible family members are alive, the court can appoint a "plaintiff ad litem" to handle the claim. This person acts on behalf of the deceased's estate and seeks justice for the wrongful death. 

It's important to remember that the laws governing wrongful death claims can be complex and are based on your specific situation. Seeking legal guidance is advised.  

Time Limits for Filing

Missouri law sets strict deadlines for filing wrongful death claims. The statute of limitations is generally three years from the date of the individual's death. Failure to file within this period may result in the court refusing to hear the case. This makes it crucial to seek legal advice as soon as possible to protect your rights and ensure your claim is filed within the prescribed time limit. 

Liability for Drunk Driving

In drunk driving accidents, there can be multiple parties held liable for the damages caused. The primary party responsible is, of course, the drunk driver. However, other potential parties may also bear liability:

  • Parents ("negligent entrustment"): If the drunk driver is a minor, their parents could be held liable for negligently entrusting their child with a vehicle while knowing or having reason to know that the child was intoxicated. 

  • The establishment/host that served the drinks: Some cases may hold the establishment or host that served alcohol to the drunk driver partially responsible if they served someone who was visibly intoxicated or under the legal drinking age. 

  • The employer: If the drunk driver was acting within the scope of their employment during the accident, their employer could be held liable for their actions. 

Dram Shop and Social Liability Laws in Missouri

Missouri has "dram shop" and "social liability" laws in place. These laws hold establishments and hosts accountable for serving alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals, aiming to prevent over-service of alcohol and reduce drunk driving accidents. If these laws are violated, contributing to a drunk driving accident, the violators may be held liable for damages. 

Possible damages from such a lawsuit can include compensation for funeral and burial expenses, medical bills related to the deceased's final illness or injury, lost income, and the loss of companionship and support that the deceased would have provided to surviving family members. 

Compassionate Legal Representation

Navigating the aftermath of a tragic accident can be overwhelming. This is why it's essential to have a compassionate and competent legal team by your side. Attorney Raphael Morris and his team at The Morris Firm are committed to providing the support you need during this difficult time. They understand the intricacies of Missouri's wrongful death laws and are prepared to fight for the justice your loved one deserves. If you've lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, don't hesitate to reach out to The Morris Firm for help.