Lawsuits involving the death of a person in Alabama are generally governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute. Alabama handles lawsuits regarding a death in a unique way. This article will address what is unique about Alabama’s wrongful death statute and the importance of hiring an experienced wrongful death attorney.
When someone is killed in a motor vehicle accident, or dies using a product like an ATV, or otherwise dies because of the fault of someone else, the civil case will be governed by the Alabama Wrongful Death Statute. In Alabama, a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is appointed by the probate court and is entitled to pursue the claim on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. Unlike many other states, any recovery made for a wrongful death in Alabama does not actually pass through the estate of the deceased person. If a person has a will, the will does not determine who gets the proceeds of any recovery of the wrongful death case. If the person’s estate owes money to creditors, the creditors are not allowed to recover any of the money won in the wrongful death case. Instead, recovery from the wrongful death case is governed by the laws of intestacy in Alabama that govern how a person’s estate would be distributed if they did not have a will. The typical order of preference under the intestacy statue is for proceeds to go to a spouse, to children, to parents, and then to other relatives in order of relation. There are special rules, for instance, when someone dies with a spouse and children that are not from that spouse.
Alabama’s wrongful death statute is also unique in the kind of damages that are awarded. In most states, a person’s lost income they would make in life had they not died comes in as damages. In this way, different lives are valued differently. Alabama does not even allow for such damages to be considered. Alabama takes the view that all life is sacred and of equal worth. Thus, the only damages that are awarded are punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages that are designed to punish the party who caused the death for their conduct and to serve as a deterrent to others from engaging in conduct that may lead to someone else’s death. Alabama treats all lives equally, and so the focus in an Alabama wrongful death case is on the conduct of the defendant rather than how much earning potential was lost when the person died.