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Aggravating Circumstances in Missouri wrongful death cases
“Aggravating circumstances” damages are essentially punitive damages in Missouri wrongful death cases. They are punitive in nature and function similarly to punitive damages in personal injury cases.
Missouri law allows a jury in a wrongful death case to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances when calculating damages. Aggravating circumstances are punitive in nature, and are permissible only if the decedent would have been entitled to punitive damages had he lived. Letz v. Turbomeca Engine Corp., 975 S.W.2d 155 (Mo.App.W.D.1997).
The purpose of allowing a jury to consider and award damages for aggravating circumstances is to punish the defendant and deter future wrongdoing by the defendant or by others. "In order to establish aggravating circumstances the plaintiff must show willful misconduct, wantonness, recklessness, or want of care by the defendant." Kilmer v. Browning, 806 S.W.2d 75 (App. S.D. 1991). The defendant's conduct must indicate that he or she was indifferent to the consequences of his or her actions, and that this indifference lead to the injury.