Wrongful Death Claims
Alabama has laws that cover the handling of a wrongful death claim. If you aren’t familiar with the term “wrongful death,” it’s the death of someone that was caused by the wrongful act, negligence, or omission of another party. It is similar to a personal injury claim, but it is brought in cases where an accident or intentional act led to the victim’s death.
A wrongful death statute allows certain family members to bring a lawsuit against the party who caused your loved one’s untimely death.
If your relative died due to someone else’s negligence or intentional acts, it’s important you speak with a Phenix City wrongful death attorney. Wrongful death claims can be extremely complex in Alabama. You need someone on your side who understands the law and how difficult and emotional of a time it is for you and your family.
At the Bence Law Firm, LLC, we have years of experience handling personal injury lawsuits, including wrongful death claims. Contact our office today and let us help you and your family through this emotionally challenging time and to learn more about our legal services. The consultation is free.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Alabama?
In Alabama, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate is the one to file a wrongful death claim in court. The personal representative is named in the person’s will or they are appointed by the court, depending on the circumstances. You may hear this person referred to as the executor or administrator of the estate. It’s often a family member who serves in this role.
The law allows family members 40 days to file a petition to become the estate administrator following their loved one’s death. After that time, the court has the right to appoint someone else other than a family member to the executor position.
Family members who would inherit the deceased’s estate if there were no will stand to recover compensation through a wrongful death claim in Alabama.
What Do You Have to Prove in an Alabama Wrongful Death Case?
You can file a wrongful death claim only if the decedent could’ve recovered for the negligence, wrongful act, or omission had he or she lived. In order for the laws of Alabama to apply, the person must have died in the state.
The place where the decedent passed away is a critical element of proving an Alabama wrongful death claim. If the person died outside the borders of Alabama, then the laws of that state would be applicable in your wrongful death lawsuit.
Alabama is a contributory negligence state, which is another difficulty with wrongful death claims. This means if the deceased was deemed to be even 1 percent at fault, the entire claim can be thrown out. This means no matter how egregious the defendant’s behavior was, if the deceased contributed in any way, there is likely no recovery in a wrongful death case.
Damages in an Alabama Wrongful Death Claim
Because the damages that are recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit are not considered part of the decedent’s estate, they will not be distributed according to the deceased person’s will or trust. What happens instead is that they are distributed based on the intestate laws as if the deceased passed away with no will. This means that even some family members who may not be named in a will may actually be entitled to a portion of the money recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Alabama is rather unique in its wrongful death law, which is covered under Alabama Code Title 6. Civil Practice §6-5-410. Most other states allow the family to recover compensatory damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, which would include medical bills, funeral and burial costs, and any other losses that are a result of the family member’s unexpected death. However, in Alabama, the law only allows for an award of punitive damages.
This is a stark contrast to other states. Essentially other states focus on the loss of the person’s life and any related damages, while Alabama focuses almost completely on the defendant’s wrongdoing.
The idea behind the wrongful death law in Alabama is to punish the defendant and hopefully deter other similar behavior by someone else. When a jury is calculating the award, they can only look at the defendant’s actions, and even their worth, but they cannot calculate the value of the decedent’s life or medical bills, burial expenses, etc.