The loss of a family member in Alabama can bring with it not only immense grief but also practical concerns. Family members who depended on the decedent may worry about how they’ll pay a mortgage or rent, take care of necessary expenses like groceries, and get through their days. If a decedent’s death happened within the borders of Alabama, and the death was caused by someone else’s wrongful act, negligence, or omission, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim to recover damages. Our experienced and caring attorneys can guide you through the process of pursuing damages.
You should be aware that in Alabama, family members can’t file wrongful death claims for their own benefit when the decedent is an adult. Instead, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate is the only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit under Alabama Code section 6-5-410. The personal representative may, of course, be a family member. Damages recovered through the lawsuit aren’t subject to the payment of the debts or liabilities of the decedent. Instead, they are distributed according to the statute of distributions.
The estate of the decedent brings the wrongful death lawsuit in cases in which the decedent could have filed a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived. In other words, the estate steps into the shoes of the decedent to seek compensation. For example, if the decedent died as a result of injuries in a truck accident in which the truck driver was drinking, the decedent’s estate can bring the case. Had the decedent lived, he or she could have brought a personal injury lawsuit against the truck driver and the trucking company. Wrongful death claims can’t be brought based on contractual grounds, such as a breach of warranty.
A separate statute pertains to the wrongful death of a minor child in Alabama. Under section 6-5-391, when a minor child’s death is caused by negligence, a wrongful act, or an omission, either the father or the mother can bring a wrongful death action. Assuming the father and mother are married and living together, they have equal rights to bring an action, but if the legal custody of the minor child is in only one of them or some other person, the person with legal custody has the exclusive right to sue.
A wrongful death lawsuit is distinct from a criminal case for manslaughter or murder based on the same facts. Unlike guilt in a criminal case, liability in a wrongful death case is expressed in monetary damages paid to the victim, rather than imprisonment and fines paid to the State. As a representative of the decedent’s estate, you can file a wrongful death claim even if there was no conviction or an acquittal of the defendant for the negligence, wrongful act, or omission that caused the death. A different and more relaxed standard of proof applies to civil cases than to criminal cases.
What damages are available in Alabama wrongful death lawsuits? In most states, compensatory damages are available to cover items such as medical expenses, funeral expenses, and emotional losses. However, in Alabama, only punitive damages may be recovered. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant and deter similar actions by others in the future. The punitive damages are paid to the decedent’s heirs. While money cannot fully make up for the loss of a loved one, as a practical matter, the punitive damages can be used to pay off expenses incurred by the heirs, such as funeral and medical expenses.
A wrongful death lawsuit needs to be filed within two years of the death in most cases. If you are the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, it is important that you seek advice from an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible, since if you miss this deadline, you likely will lose your right to sue. In many cases, we will need to investigate the scene of the accident and retain experts, and in some cases, this needs to be done before the lawsuit is filed.
If your loved one passes away due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, or you are the personal representative of a decedent’s estate, you should consult an experienced Alabama wrongful death attorney. Call Jinks, Crow & Dickson at 888-297-9592 or via our online form.
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