State Where Trucking Accident Lawsuit Is Heard Will Determine Whether Family Can Recover Damages

A story in the Joplin Globe recently caught my eye because it involves legal issues very important to Missouri trucking accident lawyers like me. The story centers on a family of four from Joplin who were killed when their car, which was stopped for a red light, was struck by a tractor-trailer and burst into flames. The truck driver is now facing four counts of negligent homicide in the incident. Relatives would like to sue the trucking company over the deaths — and in Missouri, this would be no problem. But the accident took place just over the state line in Pryor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma law may block part of the relatives’ legal claim.
The plaintiffs in the case are older children of Robert and Melissa Hayes, siblings or half-siblings to Tyler and Colby Hayes. They filed their lawsuit in Missouri, where the Hayes family lived and where the trucking company is based. However, the trucking company has asked to move the case to Oklahoma, where the accident took place, possibly because of differences in the way the states treat siblings of wrongfully killed people. Under Missouri law, the plaintiffs may claim all the same damages for the deaths of their brothers as they would for the deaths of their parents. But Oklahoma law does not allow non-economic damages — damages for the grief and pain of losing a loved one — for anyone but the victims’ parents.
That difference is important, because the economic damages families may claim for the death of a minor are usually quite small. Economic damages are payments for financial losses related to the death, including the loss of an income as well as the cost of medical care and a funeral. Because minors don’t usually work, limiting wrongful death claims to economic damages means that families can collect next to nothing for the deaths of their children, even if their cases are strong. Sometimes, it means no attorney will even take the case, because wrongful death attorneys are paid from a percentage of the winnings — and with only economic damages available, they cannot make enough money to stay in business. This essentially removes a wrongdoer’s legal liability for the death of a minor, no matter how clearly wrong that person’s behavior might have been.
It is unclear whether the effort to move the case to Oklahoma will succeed. Missouri courts have ruled that wrongful death cases should be heard in the state where the death took place — but they have also ruled that Missouri courts should hear a case when moving it out of state would take away Missourians’ legal rights. As a St. Louis semi truck accident attorney, I hope concern for Missourians’ rights wins. By seeking to move the case to Oklahoma and dismiss the claims as to Tyler and Colby Hayes, the trucking company is trying to limit its financial liability — not trying to spare the family from the pain of testifying, as its lawyer told the newspaper. The plaintiffs must still prove the trucking company was careless, and their other claims are viable in either state, but Missouri courts should not condone end-runs around the rights of our citizens.
Carey, Danis & Lowe specializes in protecting the rights of those who were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a serious accident with a commercial truck. Our Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawyers are based in St. Louis but serve clients throughout the state of Missouri, as well as those in southern Illinois. If you or someone you love has been seriously hurt by a careless truck driver, don’t sign anything the trucking company gives you — contact us as soon as possible to learn more at a free, confidential consultation. You can reach us through our Web site or call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.