Birmingham Wrongful Death Attorneys
When a Loved One Has Passed Away
When a loved one passes away, it leaves a major void in a person’s life. Things will never be the same, and there is a lot of time needed to grieve the loss and adjust to the new reality of not having that person there anymore. When a loved one is killed because of the negligence or recklessness of another party, it is far more difficult to accept. In this type of situation, there are a lot of unanswered questions, among the most common being, “why did this have to happen?”
At the Birmingham, Alabama, law office of Burge & Burge, we understand that nothing can right the wrong that has occurred when a loved one suffers an untimely death that was someone else’s fault. We can, however, do everything possible to hold wrongdoers accountable for the harm they cause. Doing this provides monetary compensation that helps your family move forward, and it will often help prevent future harm to others as well.
We believe that taking negligent people and companies to court for the wrongful deaths they cause is one of the most effective ways to stop the harm from happening again. We should know. Our lawyers have more than 50 years of combined experience in personal injury law. Dedicated to ethics and recognized for our high standards in the practice of law, we are AV®-rated* under Martindale-Hubbell’s peer review rating system.
Alabama Wrongful Death Laws
Alabama code section 6 – 5 – 410 defines wrongful death as a death that is caused by the “wrongful act, omission, or negligence” of another party. A wrongful death action is a civil lawsuit that is completely separate from any criminal proceeding that may result from a loved one’s death, and the suit can be brought regardless of whether or not the responsible party is charged criminally for the same wrongful action.
While a criminal charge is brought by the government, a wrongful death lawsuit is brought by a private party that is solely seeking monetary damages as their legal remedy. Essentially, a wrongful death claim is like a personal injury claim, except that the injured party did not survive, so a lawsuit must be brought on their behalf. There are some other differences between Alabama personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death claims as well, which we will get into in more detail later on.
There are a number of fatal accidents in which a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate, some of the most common include:
- Auto Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Bicycle Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Workplace Accidents
- Accidents Caused by Defective or Dangerous Products
- Premises Liability Claims
- Nursing Home Abuse
Alabama’s wrongful death laws are unique from most other states in some very important ways. First of all, there are very strict limitations on who can bring wrongful death claim. Secondly, you are only allowed to recover punitive damages from the defendant.
Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama?
While some states allow close relatives to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit, in Alabama, this type of action can only be brought by the executor/personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If your loved one had a will, then the personal representative would be the person who is designated by the will to serve in this capacity. If there was no will, then a personal representative will need to be appointed by the court before a wrongful death proceeding can begin. And if there are any additional complications, it can drag on for several months.
This is important, because in most cases, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in Alabama is just two years from the date of the decedent’s death. This is something that everyone involved must be mindful of, because if you miss this deadline, you may lose out on your right to recover compensation for your loved one’s death.
It is important to note that, although a wrongful death action is brought by the decedent’s estate, any proceeds that are recovered by the lawsuit are distributed directly to the decedent’s heirs-at-law as if there was no will. This means that the beneficiaries of a lawsuit may not be the same as the heirs that are named in the will. This also means that the proceeds from the lawsuit are not required to be used to satisfy any debts that the estate may have incurred.
Damages Available from Alabama Wrongful Death Claims
Unlike other types of personal injury lawsuits, damages for economic and noneconomic losses are not recoverable in an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit. You are only allowed to collect punitive damages. Also known as exemplary damages, punitive damages are not meant to compensate victims and their families for their losses, but rather to “punish” the responsible party for their wrongful actions and help deter them (and others) from similarly egregious actions in the future.
Asking a jury for punitive damages is a much different argument than asking for compensatory damages. To be awarded punitive damages, you must show that the responsible party’s actions constituted more than just simple negligence. Their actions must have been willful, malicious, or grossly negligent. This is a higher standard to meet, and this why it is very important to work with an attorney who has specific experience successfully pursuing wrongful death claims.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
In Alabama, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death claims is two years from the decedent’s death. This may seem like plenty of time, but keep in mind that if there is no will, appointing a personal representative for your loved one’s estate will require a separate proceeding, which could take a while.
The statute of limitations could also be shorter than two years if you are bringing a claim against a government entity. If your claim is against a city, the filing deadline is usually six months, and if your claim is against the county, it is usually a year. There are some other specific procedures that must be followed in lawsuits against government entities that are also time-consuming, so it is best to get started on claims like these as quickly as possible.
Tailoring Our Approach to Your Needs
At Burge & Burge, we are trial lawyers. We work toward success in wrongful death cases by preparing them for the courtroom. But we recognize that a trial is not the best approach for every case, so we customize our course of action to meet your circumstances. We are adept negotiators with the tools to get your family the compensation they deserve. But if the other side is not willing to negotiate in good faith, we are ready and able to pursue full damages at trial when necessary.
If a loved one has been involved in a fatal accident, contact the wrongful death lawyers at Burge & Burge. Our Birmingham law firm is available by calling 205-549-8371 or toll free at 800-633-3733 for a free initial consultation.
We handle all personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, so you only pay attorney fees if we recover compensation for you
*Martindale-Hubbell is the facilitator of a peer review rating process. Ratings reflect the confidential opinions of members of the bar and the judiciary. Martindale-Hubbell ratings fall into two categories — legal ability and general ethical standards. CV, BV, and AV are registered certification marks of Reed Elsevier Properties Inc., used in accordance with the Martindale-Hubbell certification procedures, standards, and policies.