Losing a loved one is always heart wrenching, and there is a period of grief and mourning before life can return to normal. Losing a loved one because of the negligent or reckless actions or omissions of another party is far worse, however. Knowing that their death was untimely and should never have happened in the first place can be very difficult to take. While there is nothing you can do to bring them back, it is natural to want justice.
The question of whether or not you can file a wrongful death case if a loved one dies in Alabama depends on a number of factors. Our state’s laws are unique in this regard and they are unlike virtually any other state. In order to determine if you can file a claim for the loss of a loved one, there are a few questions that need to be answered:
How Long Has It Been Since your Loved One’s Death?
Hopefully, you are looking into a wrongful death action relatively soon after the death of a loved one. However, if it is been some time since their death, you need to be aware of the time limits for filing a lawsuit, also known as the “statute of limitations”. In Alabama, the statute of limitations for most wrongful death claims is two years from the date of death. There are some factors that can extend this deadline, and if this is an issue in your case, it is best to speak with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.
Who Was Responsible for Your Loved One’s Death?
There are a number of events that can result in someone’s death. These may include:
- Auto accidents, particularly those involving drunk drivers;
- Workplace accidents;
- Medical malpractice;
- Fatal injuries from defective products;
- Fatal injuries resulting from unsafe premises;
- Deaths resulting from intentional acts, such as assault.
In most of these instances, it is possible to file a wrongful death claim against the party responsible on behalf of a deceased loved one. One possible exception may be in the case of a workplace accident.
With workplace accidents, if your loved one was covered by worker’s compensation insurance, survivors are generally not allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the employer. However, if the death was caused by a third party other than their employer, then a wrongful death action may be possible and appropriate.
Who is the Personal Representative of Your Loved One’s Estate?
One of the unique aspects of Alabama wrongful death law is that not just anyone is allowed to file a claim. Instead, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate is allowed to file this type of lawsuit, and the action is brought on behalf of the estate. The personal representative of the estate may or may not be a family member, and if there is a will, this person would already be named in that document. If there is no will, a personal representative must be appointed by the court through the probate process. This could take some time, and you need to be mindful of the aforementioned deadlines if you need to undertake this process in order to get a personal representative appointed.
Damages in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims
Although Alabama wrongful death lawsuits must be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, proceeds from such actions (also known as “damages”) are distributed directly to the decedent’s heirs-at-law. In other words, proceeds go to the intestate heirs of the decedent, as if he/she had died without a will. In addition, this money cannot be used to satisfy the debts or liabilities of the decedent’s estate.
Another way that Alabama wrongful death cases are different and unique from most other states is with the type of damages that can be awarded. In other states, you can sue for compensatory damages, such as medical costs, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and others. In Alabama, you are only allowed to sue for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are not meant to compensate an injury victim (and their family), but rather to “punish” the party responsible for their wrongdoing, and to help deter them (and others) from committing similar acts in the future.
To recover punitive damages, you need to show more than just simple negligence on the part of the at-fault party. You will need to show that the actions which resulted in your loved one’s death were willful, malicious, or grossly negligent. This is a much higher bar to clear; and for this reason, it is strongly advised that you work with an attorney who has in-depth experience with wrongful death cases, and the proven ability to secure favorable results on behalf of their clients.
Contact Burns, Cunningham & Mackey, P.C. for Skilled Legal Guidance
If you lost a loved one in Alabama because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, contact Burns, Cunningham & Mackey, P.C. for legal help. Call our office today at (251) 260-3815 to schedule a free consultation and case assessment. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our Mobile office in person at your convenience.