The unexpected loss of a family member is even more tragic when their death is caused by someone else’s careless, negligent or deliberately malicious behavior. While dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult, doing so can become infinitely more complex when you try to set aside your devastation to deal with the legal aspects of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIMS
DO YOU HAVE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
Our law firm represents families in wrongful death lawsuits involving:
- Auto accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Slips and falls
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Workplace accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Defective products
- Lack of proper security
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Nursing home abuse and neglect
- Aviation accidents
UNDERSTANDING WRONGFUL DEATH LAWS IN ALABAMA
Alabama code section 6-5-410 defines wrongful death as a “wrongful act, omission, or negligence causing death.” A wrongful death claim is a civil claim for monetary damages brought by a private party, and this type of claim can be brought even if the defendant is not facing criminal charges for the same death.
Alabama wrongful death laws are very unique and differ in some very significant ways from the laws in most other states. First of all, family members of the decedent are not allowed to bring a wrongful death claim. Instead, a claim can only be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
If the decedent had a will, a personal representative/executor would be named in the will. If there is no will, then a personal representative must be appointed by the court. The spouse of the decedent is first in line to serve as personal representative, and after that, the right goes to the remaining heirs. However, if a petition to have a personal representative appointed is not filed within 40 days of the decedent’s death, the spouse and heirs forfeit their priority to serve, and the court may appoint anyone else who files a petition.
Although a wrongful death claim must be brought by the decedent’s estate, proceeds that are awarded from the lawsuit do not go back to the estate. Instead, they are distributed to the heirs at law. This means that no matter who the decedent left his or her assets to in the will, proceeds from the lawsuit must go directly to the decedent’s intestate heirs under Alabama law. This also means that proceeds from the claim do not have to be used to settle any of the estate’s debts, such as funeral costs, credit card bills, and healthcare bills.
TYPES OF COMPENSATION IN A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
Another way that wrongful death lawsuits in Alabama are unique is with the damages that can be awarded. In most other states, you can sue for compensatory damages, such as medical expenses, loss of future earnings and benefits, and non-economic damages such as mental anguish and loss of love, affection, and companionship. In Alabama, you can only sue for punitive damages in a wrongful death claim.
Punitive damages are not meant to compensate the family for their loved one’s loss, but rather to “punish” the person or party that was responsible for their death and help deter them (and others) from committing similar actions in the future. As such, the amount of damages awarded is supposed to be in direct proportion with the severity of wrongdoing that resulted in the death, rather than the monetary value of the decedent’s life.
Because you can only sue for punitive damages in an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit, these claims are much more complicated than a typical personal injury case. This is especially true in cases in which the actions of the defendant were negligent, but there does not appear to be intent to do harm to the victim.
That said, punitive damages can often be recovered in cases involving simple negligence, if that negligence results in death. The key is to work with an attorney who thoroughly understands the state’s wrongful death laws and has the proven ability to make a persuasive argument that punitive damages should be awarded.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM
In most cases, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate has just two years from the date of the decedent’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the lawsuit is against a government entity, the timeframe is much shorter, usually either six months or a year.
Considering it can take several weeks (at least) to have a personal representative appointed if your loved one died without a will, it is extremely important to get started on your case as soon as possible, so your right to recover damages does not expire.
The laws in Alabama make wrongful death claims more complicated and challenging to pursue than in almost any other state. If you have lost someone close to you because of the wrongful actions of another person or party, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your right to recover full and fair compensation.
Kandace Jackson, Personal Injury Client
"Just settled my case. Thankful it’s over. Thank you to Mann & Potter for helping me getting me what I deserved."...from Google Reviews
Justin Huckabee, Personal Injury Client
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Wesley McClain, Personal Injury Client
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