Wrongful Death Attorney in Dothan, AL
One of the most heart-wrenching experiences anyone can ever go through is the untimely death of a loved one. Experiencing this type of loss is extremely painful under any circumstances, but the situation is made far worse when the loved one’s death should have been prevented. While nothing can bring back the loss of someone close to you, a skilled wrongful death lawyer can help ensure that you recover maximum damages and that those responsible are held fully accountable.
At M. Adam Jones & Associates, we understand what families go through when a loved one is unexpectantly taken from them, and we fight hard to secure just compensation for their losses. Our award-winning attorneys have extensive knowledge of the complexities of Alabama wrongful death laws, and what it takes to prevail in these types of cases even when we are up against well-funded adversaries. We are highly acclaimed not only for our skill and experience, but also for our aggressive advocacy on behalf of each client we serve.
We handle wrongful death cases for clients resulting from all types of personal injuries. This includes but is not limited to:
- Automobile Accidents
- Trucking Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Bicycle Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
- Premises Liability
- Construction Accidents
- Product Liability
- Dangerous Drugs
Alabama Wrongful Death Laws
A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against the party responsible for a loved one’s death, even if that same party is not charged criminally for the offense. A claim can be filed in any of the following circumstances:
- The death was due to negligent or careless actions;
- The death was caused by willful measures intended to do the person harm;
- The death was caused by an unsafe or hazardous product or defective medical device (product liability).
Alabama’s wrongful death laws are unique and differ from laws in other states in some very significant ways. Most notably, there are strict limitations on who is eligible to bring this type of lawsuit, and you are only allowed to sue for punitive damages. There are also relatively short deadlines in which to file the claim.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Alabama?
Unlike most other states, family members of a decedent are not allowed to file a wrongful death claim in Alabama. This type of action can only be brought by the personal representative for the decedent’s estate. If the decedent had a will, the person who was appointed personal representative would be the one to bring the suit. In the absence of a will, things become a bit more complicated.
If there is no will, the first person in line to become personal representative is the spouse of the decedent. After that, the right goes to the remaining heirs. However, if no one files a petition to be appointed personal representative within 40 days of the death of the decedent, the spouse and heirs forfeit their priority to serve, and anyone else can petition the court to be appointed.
Although an Alabama wrongful death action is brought by the personal representative of the estate, damages awarded in the case do not go to the estate, they are distributed directly to the heirs at law. This is significant for two reasons. First, it does not matter if the decedent left everything in the will to only one heir, or even if the decedent left all his/her assets to a church or charity. Proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit are distributed to the intestate heirs, regardless of what the will says.
Second, because proceeds go directly to the heirs and not to the estate, there is no obligation on the part of the recipients to use these proceeds to pay the estate’s bills. Many creditors, such as funeral homes, health care providers, credit card companies, and insurers may try to get their hands on the proceeds from a wrongful death suit. Under Alabama law, however, these proceeds do not have to be used to pay the debts of the estate.
Damages in Alabama Wrongful Death Cases
Alabama also differs from most other states in the types of damages that can be collected in a wrongful death case. Most other states allow for compensatory damages such as funeral costs, medical expenses, loss of earnings due to an untimely death, and similar losses. In Alabama, you are only allowed to sue for punitive damages in a wrongful death action. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant and deter them (or other parties) from committing similarly willful or negligent acts in the future.
The fact that only punitive damages can be awarded in wrongful death cases makes them much more complicated. Here is an example of why that may be the case. If a 35-year-old father of three was killed in a car accident because the other driver ran a red light and did not see him, other states would allow you to argue that the family should be compensated for their father’s funeral, medical bills, three decades or so of lost earnings, the emotional distress of losing a husband and father, and related losses. This is a much easier argument to make than saying that the driver should pay punitive damages for simply running a red light when there was no clear intent to do the victim harm.
How Long Do I Have to Bring a Wrongful Death Action?
In cases against a private individual or entity, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Alabama is two years from the date of death. The window of time is even shorter if the lawsuit is against a city or county. For a city, the deadline is usually 6 months, and for a county, it is usually a year. At first glance, it may seem like this gives you a sufficient amount of time to take action; but given the fact that only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file the claim and it can take several weeks or months for one to be appointed, it is important to begin the process as soon as possible.
Speak with a Seasoned Alabama Wrongful Death Lawyer
State laws make Alabama wrongful death actions complex and challenging to pursue. If you have lost a loved one due to the willful or negligent actions of another party, you need someone in your corner who understands these laws and knows how to make a persuasive argument for punitive damages to be awarded. At M. Adam Jones & Associates, we have litigated countless wrongful death cases, and we have the skills, resources, and commitment to successfully pursue full damages for our clients.
For a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact our office today at 334-699-5599.