November 16, 2023
Wrongful Death

Originally published July 24, 2020.

When a death impacts a family, it is usually difficult to handle emotionally, as well as financially. Survivors think of all the experiences they’ll no longer be able to share with the individual and how much their lives will change. Death can be even harder to bear if a loved one’s death was avoidable. If someone else’s negligence resulted in an individual’s passing, the victim’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit for compensation.

However, Alabama has some laws that are different from those in other states. If you believe someone you love died wrongfully, you should reach out to an Alabama personal injury attorney for advice. In the meantime, this article will share some of the basics of wrongful death claims. You’ll learn about how wrongful death is defined, who can bring a claim, and how long you have to take legal action.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

All deaths are upsetting but not all can result in a wrongful death claim. Under Alabama’s laws, a wrongful death is one that is the result of another person’s negligence, omission or wrongful act. This covers a wide variety of scenarios including motor vehicle accidents, fires, dog attacks, medical malpractice, and product liability cases.

Types of Wrongful Death Claims

Different types of wrongful death cases involve different legal considerations as well as different evidence needed to establish liability. Some common types of wrongful death cases include:

  • Deliberate Harm: Wrongful death claims can arise from manslaughter or murder charges. Even if the accused is not found guilty in the criminal trial, a wrongful death civil suit can still be pursued, as it requires a lower burden of proof.
  • Car Accidents: These are among the most common causes of wrongful death claims. They can result from negligent driving behaviors like speeding, drunk driving, or distracted driving, leading to fatal accidents.
  • Medical Malpractice: In these cases, a wrongful death claim is filed when a healthcare professional’s negligence or error, such as misdiagnosis, surgical errors, or improper treatment, leads to a patient’s death.
  • Work Injuries: Wrongful death claims can result from fatal accidents that occur in the workplace, especially in high-risk industries like construction or manufacturing. These cases often involve issues like unsafe work conditions or an employer’s failure to adhere to safety protocols.
  • Product Liability: These cases arise when a consumer product is defective or dangerously designed, leading to death. Examples include faulty medical devices, hazardous children’s toys, or malfunctioning automotive parts.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Unlike in some other states, only the estate of the victim can file a claim for wrongful death damages in Alabama. This means the personal representative or executor of the individual’s estate must bring the wrongful death lawsuit. Most other states allow specific family members such as the spouse, parent or child to file a claim. That being said, family members are often named as executors of an individual’s will so the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

A wrongful death action can be brought against an individual or corporation. However, it must be an entity against whom the victim could have filed a personal injury claim if they had survived. If you’re not sure whether you have the authority to file a claim or you don’t know who you should pursue, an Alabama personal injury lawyer can help you.

How Long Do Wrongful Death Cases Take?

The duration of a wrongful death case can vary greatly, but generally, they can take anywhere from a few months to several years to resolve. The length of time is influenced by the complexity of the case and the willingness of the parties to reach a settlement.

Cases involving clear liability and straightforward circumstances may be resolved more quickly, often through settlements. However, if there are disputes over who is at fault or the circumstances of the death, the case may require a more extensive investigation, gathering of evidence (police reports, autopsy records, eyewitness statements, etc.), and potentially a trial, which significantly extends the timeline.

The efficiency of the attorneys also plays a large role—defendants may try to drag out legal procedures like discovery (the evidence-gathering stage) and motions. Another factor is the workload of the court system and wait time for a trial. Lastly, if either party chooses to appeal a decision, this can add even more time to the case.

How Damages Are Awarded in Alabama

Alabama also differs in the way it awards damages. Most states allow plaintiffs to seek compensation for the loss of their loved ones. They can claim economic and non-economic damages for things like loss of income, loss of inheritance, and emotional distress. Even funeral and burial expenses can be recovered in other states. However, Alabama focuses solely on the negligent party’s wrongdoing and, therefore, only allows punitive damages.

This means the at-fault party is required to pay a sum of money as punishment for their actions. Punitive damages are also intended to serve as a deterrent to keep other people from doing the same action or behavior that caused the death. The damages are paid to the victim’s heirs and not the estate.

Some people argue that Alabama’s system is unfair, and the amount rarely covers the family’s economic losses. Even though this might not be the ideal solution, it’s the best that can be done if your loved one dies in this state.

In addition, in Alabama, the legal doctrine of “contributory negligence” presents a major challenge in wrongful death cases. Under this doctrine, if the deceased person’s own negligence contributed to the accident in any way, then the plaintiff (the deceased’s estate) is completely barred from recovering damages for the family, even if the defendant (the other party) was primarily at fault.

The contributory negligence doctrine puts a very high burden on plaintiffs to prove their lost loved one did nothing negligent that could have played even a small role in their deaths. This harsh standard deters many wrongful death suits in Alabama or leads families to settle for far less.

To ensure you get the best possible outcome, you should contact an Alabama personal injury lawyer at the earliest opportunity. They will ensure that your lawsuit is filed in time and your case is as strong as it can be.

The Statute of Limitations Governing Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death claims must generally be filed within two years of the victim’s passing. However, if your claim is against a government department, you may have to file a notice of claim in a much shorter period. If you don’t act within the specified time, you’ll lose the opportunity to do so.

Wrongful death claims can take a long time to settle. Therefore, it is best to consult an attorney and get the process started as soon as possible. You’ll want your lawyer to investigate and build a strong case and this will take time. However, if you allow the statute of limitations to run out, you no longer have this as an option.

Call The Vance Law Firm Injury Lawyers Today for Expert Legal Advice

If you lost a loved one because of someone else’s actions, you probably want to know more about your legal rights. Reach out to the Alabama personal injury lawyers at The Vance Law Firm Injury Lawyers and schedule a consultation. We’ll look into the situation and tell you whether you have a case. If you do, we’ll fight on your behalf. Wrongful death cases can be complex and emotionally draining, but we have both the legal expertise and the compassion to help you. Call us today!

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