August Busch IV Settlement with Family of Dead Mother Spotlights Wrongful Death Case

The recent announced settlement by beer baron August Busch IV, where he agreed to pay the surviving son of his late girlfriend Adrienne Martin, spotlights the Missouri remedy of wrongful death.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in its April 20, 2011 edition that attorneys for August A. Busch, former chief executive of Anheuser-Busch Company, had agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit involving the accidental drug overdose of his late girlfriend, Adrienne Martin.

Adrienne Martin was found dead on December 19, 2010 in Busch’s West St. Louis mansion after a night of cocaine use.  In addition, she had a lethal dose of the painkiller Oxycodone in her system.  Despite these findings, Busch was never charged with any criminal violation and the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office has closed its investigation.
Adrienne Martin left a young son and his natural father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against August Busch, IV, alleging that he was negligent in providing drugs as well as failing to properly respond and call for emergency medical treatment.  The case was settled quickly before any details of the case were revealed in pre-trial depositions.
The case is of note not only because of the underlying facts, but because Adrienne Martin also left a mother and a father who have objected to the settlement, claiming that it is inadequate and does not provide sufficient damages.  Missouri law provides for court approval of any wrongful death settlement, and the court must allocate the proceeds from the lawsuit to all surviving members of the class.

Missouri law provides that in the event of the negligent death of an individual, that individual’s surviving spouse, children and parents have a cause of action for the loss of the companionship, society, comfort and income of the deceased person.  The survivors must file their lawsuit within three years of the date of the deceased’s death or the claim is barred.  Wrongful death cases do not permit for the recovery of grief, but you may recover for a lost income, the lost service of a parent, wife or child as well as non-economic damages such as the loss of the person’s society and companionship.

Damages for wrongful death cases differ greatly, depending on the age of decedent, the decedent’s marital status, whether or not the decent left surviving children, the decedent’s income history, the decedent’s health history and the decedent’s background.  Attorneys such as the Meehan Law Firm use forensic economic experts to prepare a report as to the lost potential future income of a deceased person.  Amendments to the wrongful death statute in the 2005 tort reform limited the ability of parents to recover for the lost income of children, based upon the parents’ level of education.  This amendment was widely criticized as being discriminatory against low income parents, but the State Legislature decided to enact it at the request of business interests.

Wrongful death cases can be brought as a result of a motor vehicle accident, trucking accident, construction accident, medical malpractice or product defect.  The cause of action belongs to the survivors and not to the deceased person’s estate.  Some or all of the survivors may participate in the lawsuit, and the court makes a determination to allocate any verdict or settlement after same is reached.  This is a court-ordered hearing, and all surviving members of the decedent’s family must be notified of their right to participate and to offer their consent or opposition to the proposed settlement.  The court then makes a determination as to what is in the best interest of the decedent, and allocates the proceeds accordingly.

In the Busch settlement, an interesting battle is setting up between the surviving child’s father, who does not have a claim but is the child’s legal representative, and his grandmother and grandfather.  According to the Post’s news report, Ms. Trampler is seeking custody of her grandson and opposes the settlement.  Ms. Martin’s estranged father also has surfaced and is asking for a portion of the proceeds.  These types of thorny battles often occur in fractured families.

To learn more about wrongful death lawsuits and whether or not you may have such a claim, contact The Meehan Law Firm for further information.