Negligence is all too common in today’s society. Many times, negligent or reckless actions (or omissions) result in serious injuries, and in such cases, victims have the right to file a claim for damages. In the most extreme cases, these wrongful actions can result in the loss of life.
Losing a loved one is always a tragic event, but it is far worse when someone close to you suffers an untimely death that could have easily been prevented. All the money in the world will not bring your loved one back to life, and the best you can do is take time to grieve and try to adjust to life without them. Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one, Alabama law does allow for survivors to seek compensation through a wrongful death action.
Alabama Wrongful Death Laws
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that seeks monetary damages for a wrongful act, omission, or negligence that results in death. It is important to note that this is not the same as a criminal action, and a qualified party can bring a wrongful death action even if the defendant is not criminally charged for the act that resulted in the person’s death.
Another thing that is very important to point out is that Alabama’s wrongful death laws are unique and different from the laws of every other state in the country. The main differences lie in who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim, and the type of compensation that can be recovered by surviving loved ones.
Filing a Wrongful Death Case in Alabama
Unlike other states, Alabama does not allow close relatives of the deceased person to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate is allowed to bring this type of action. Right off the bat, this can complicate things when preparing to file a claim.
If the individual died with a will, then the personal representative will already have been named within the document. If there was no will, however, the personal representative is appointed by the court after giving proper notice to all heirs and beneficiaries. Even if this proceeding goes smoothly, it can still take several weeks. 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.
Another unique aspect of Alabama wrongful death law is that, although the personal representative of the estate brings the legal action, any damages that are recovered from the lawsuit are distributed directly to the heirs at law (based on the state’s intestacy law). This is true regardless of whether or not there was a will, which means that some family members who may not have been named in the will could be entitled to a portion of the damages recovered through the lawsuit.
Damages from Alabama Wrongful Death Claims
Perhaps the most unique aspect of Alabama wrongful death law is that only punitive damages can be recovered through a civil lawsuit. Virtually all other states allow surviving family members to recover damages for economic and non-economic losses; such as lost income, funeral and burial expenses, emotional distress, and loss of companionship, guidance, and support.
Punitive damages are awarded solely for the purpose of punishing the defendant and helping to deter them (and others) from similar actions in the future. This is a more difficult argument to make, because the jury is not able to take into consideration the value of the decedent’s life or the impact the decedent’s death has had on those closest to him/her. To obtain punitive damages, you must show that the actions of the defendant were so egregious that they rise to the level of being worthy of punishment through a monetary award.
Contact a Seasoned Birmingham, AL Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you lost someone close to you because of the negligent or reckless actions of another person or party, you need an attorney with the proven experience and skills to successfully navigate the complexities of Alabama wrongful death laws. In Birmingham or nearby communities, contact Burge & Burge for a free consultation and case assessment. Call us today at 205-251-9000 or send us a message through our web contact form. You may also stop by our office in person at your convenience.