Losing someone close to you is always heartbreaking, but when a loved one dies because of someone else’s negligent or reckless actions, it is even more difficult to take. And although no amount of money can make up for the untimely loss of a loved one, the best our legal system can do is provide monetary compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death is defined as the loss of life that is caused by a “wrongful act, omission, or negligence” of another party (Alabama code section 6-5-410). Some of the situations in which a wrongful death action may be appropriate include deaths resulting from:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Nursing home neglect and abuse
- Medical malpractice
- Dangerous premises
- Dangerous or defective products
- Criminal acts
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit, except that the person who was injured is deceased and no longer able to pursue the case on their own. Someone else must file the action on the decedent’s behalf.
It is important to note that a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action brought by a private party that is separate from any criminal charges that may have resulted from the decedent’s death. If the responsible party is charged criminally, this type of case is handled by the government, with a conviction likely resulting in imprisonment and other penalties. With a wrongful death action, the plaintiff is solely seeking monetary damages.
In Alabama, wrongful death lawsuits are unique and work differently from other states. There are major restrictions on who is allowed to bring this type of action in our state, and the damages available are far more limited than with a personal injury lawsuit.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Alabama?
In many states, a spouse, child, or other close family member is allowed to initiate a wrongful death action on behalf of the decedent. In Alabama, the only one who is allowed to bring this type of action is the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If there was a will, the personal representative would be the person who is named in it. If there was no will, this person will have to be appointed by the court.
The process of appointing a personal representative without a will can be somewhat lengthy, and those thinking about bringing a wrongful death suit need to be aware of the two-year statute of limitations that applies in these types of cases.
Two years may seem like plenty of time, but it can go by fast when you are dealing with other matters related to the decedent’s estate and trying to adjust to life without them. The statute of limitations may also be shorter in some cases, such as with lawsuits against a government entity. This is why it is highly recommended that you get an experienced lawyer involved as early as possible. Otherwise, you may lose out on your right to recover compensation for your loved one’s death.
Damages Recoverable in Alabama Wrongful Death Cases
Another way in which wrongful death claims are unique in Alabama is with the type of damages that can be recovered. Most states allow you to recover damages for economic and noneconomic losses; such as medical bills incurred before the decedent’s death, lost wages, loss of future earnings, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and loss of companionship, care, and support. Unfortunately, Alabama law only allows you to recover punitive damages from a wrongful death action.
Punitive damages are not meant to compensate an injured party for their losses, but rather to “punish” the responsible party for their wrongful actions. This means that the jury is not allowed to factor in the monetary value of the losses incurred as a result of the decedent’s death. They must only look at the egregiousness of the wrongdoer’s actions and the necessity to punish them. This is a much different standard to meet, and success with this type of case is heavily dependent on the persuasiveness of the arguments presented by the plaintiff’s legal counsel.
What About Survival Actions?
Many states allow loved ones to bring a survival lawsuit in conjunction with a wrongful death action in order to obtain additional damages that would otherwise be unavailable. Again, Alabama law is not all that favorable to victims and their families with these types of cases. A survival action can only be brought in our state if a personal injury lawsuit was already filed before the decedent passed away. If you believe there is an open personal injury claim that survives your loved one’s death, get in touch with us right away to find out if a survival claim might be possible in your case.
Contact a Skilled and Compassionate Dothan, AL Wrongful Death Attorney
If you lost a loved one because of another party’s wrongful actions, you may be entitled to compensation. Call M. Adam Jones and Associates at 334-581-9238 or message us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. We will meet with you to thoroughly assess your case and advise you of your legal rights and options.