March 28, 2022
Wrongful Death

Losing a loved one can be one of the most devastating experiences of someone’s life, especially when their death was preventable and caused by another person. In these cases, surviving family members can file wrongful death claims against the parties who contributed to or caused their loved ones’ deaths.

Many preventable deaths occur because of negligence. These include surgeons making careless mistakes while operating on patients, drivers hitting pedestrians while distracted by their phones, and property owners failing to address potential safety hazards leading to fatal slips and falls.

However, some preventable deaths are due to extreme recklessness and even an intention to harm others. In these cases, liable parties may face criminal charges.

Unfortunately, criminal convictions do not do much, if anything, to help the families of the victims, who are often suffering both emotionally and financially after their loss. Here’s what Alabama law has to say about wrongful death claims when deaths occur due to criminal acts.

Alabama’s Wrongful Death Act Includes Deaths Caused by Criminal Acts

Alabama law defines a wrongful death as one that is caused by the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of another. In this case, “wrongful act” can describe criminal behavior, especially when it relates to actions that were intended to harm or even kill other people.

Actions that can lead to both criminal charges and wrongful death claims include:

  • Murder
  • Vehicular homicide (especially in cases with extremely high BAC levels)
  • Extreme negligence (such as withholding food, water, medications, and other essentials)
  • Medical malpractice with blatant disregard for patient wellbeing

How Do Wrongful Death Claims Work When Criminal Charges Are Filed?

When a defendant faces charges for the death of another person, they go before a jury and judge in criminal court to determine their guilt. They also may face civil charges in the form of a separate wrongful death claim due to their role in the death of another person.

There are key differences in how the two verdicts are reached:

  • In criminal cases, defendants must be found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
  • In civil cases, defendants must be found liable by a preponderance of the evidence.

Because there’s a lower threshold for proving liability in civil wrongful death claims, a person may be found not guilty in their criminal trial but liable in their civil trial. One of the most famous examples of this occurred between 1995-1997. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder on Oct. 3, 1995, but was found liable for wrongful death on Feb. 4, 1997.

Wrongful Death Claims in Alabama Pay Punitive, Not Compensatory Damages to Victims’ Families

Unlike personal injury claims which typically pay only compensatory damages designed to cover victims’ medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, wrongful death claims in Alabama pay only punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish at-fault parties rather than compensate their victims and their victims’ families. Regardless, the money is still provided to the victim’s family.

Of course, the money can be used by victims’ families however they see fit, but the amount they receive isn’t decided by how the deaths have affected them financially. Instead, it’s determined by how severely the at-fault parties should be financially punished for their actions.

While some states have capped the damages that surviving family members can receive in wrongful death claims, Alabama hasn’t set a limit on punitive damages.

Don’t Wait to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit—Contact Us Today

Whether your loved one’s preventable death was due to negligence or an intentional act, your family deserves compensation. If you decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you need to act quickly. While the statute of limitations for criminal charges related to a death is usually indefinite, they expire quickly for civil lawsuits. You have only two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

At The Vance Law Firm, our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers have experience handling all types of wrongful death claims, including those filed after criminal charges have been tried in court. Contact us today for a free consultation. We’ll work hard to help your family get maximum compensation for your devastating loss.

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