Unfortunately, negligence in our world is all too common. It can take many forms such as the texting driver who causes a car accident, the incompetent surgeon who operates on the wrong body party or the landlord who does not ensure that the apartment’s staircase is well lit and safe. It is a sad fact that negligence can sometimes take the life of someone, but fortunately, compensation can be sought under the law by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Although most members of the public have heard the term “wrongful death,” many are not sure of their rights to file this type of lawsuit. As the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is controlled by the laws of the state in which the death occurred, it is important for Alabama residents to be familiar with this important law.
Wrongful death in Alabama
Wrongful death is a civil action allowing certain family members to recover damages resulting from the death of someone that is killed by a wrongful act, omission or negligence of another person or company (e.g. car accidents and defective products). Although the wrongdoer may also face criminal charges, the outcome of such charges is a separate matter and does not affect the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In Alabama, a wrongful death lawsuit may only be filed if the decedent could have recovered for the wrongful act, omission or negligence had he or she lived. The lawsuit itself may only be filed by the personal representative (executor) of the decedent’s estate.
Any damages that the personal representative recovers in the lawsuit are not part of the decedent’s estate, so they are not distributed according to the decedent’s will or trust. Instead, any damages recovered are distributed as though the decedent died without a will according to the intestacy laws. As a result, some family members that are not named in the will may be entitled to a portion of the damages recovered.
What can be recovered?
Alabama’s wrongful death law is unique, as virtually every other state which allows survivors to recover monetary and non-monetary losses caused by the decedent’s death such as loss of income, emotional suffering, loss of inheritance or loss of support. However, the purpose of Alabama’s wrongful death law is to punish wrongdoers and deter future instances of similar misconduct. As a result, punitive damages are the only type of damages recoverable under the law.
Under the law, the jury may award damages in an amount it deems as just. However, in deciding the amount of the award, the jury may not factor in the value of the decedent life or the need to compensate the decedent’s family. Instead, the jury is only allowed to consider how bad the wrongdoer’s act was and the necessity of punishing the wrongdoer when determining the value of damages. In addition, the jury may consider the wealth of the wrongdoer when calculating the amount of the award.
Consult an attorney
As Alabama’s wrongful death law is complicated, it is advisable to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney before seeking damages. An injury attorney can advise you about the merits of your claim and work to ensure that it has greatest possibility of success.