Negligence has become far too common in today’s world, and the carelessness of another party can lead to tragedy. This can take the form of distracted or drunk driving, incompetent medical care, or an unsafe condition on a piece of property.
If a wrongful or careless act took the life of someone you love, you may be able to seek compensation under the law through a wrongful death lawsuit. Where the accident occurred matters a great deal because Alabama’s laws regarding wrongful death are incredibly unique.
Wrongful Death According to Alabama Law
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action. The simplest way to think about it is that this is a personal injury case that the person harmed is unable to pursue because they lost their life. According to Alabama law, wrongful death is defined as the wrongful act, omission, or negligence caused by any party in which the person harmed could have commenced legal action if the wrongful act, omission, or negligence hadn’t caused death.
Some of the types of situations that have resulted in wrongful death actions include:
- Auto and truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Nursing home abuse
- Defective products
- Premises liability
- Dangerous drugs
- Criminal acts
Can You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Not everyone is eligible to file a wrongful death case in Alabama. It might seem logical that a family member could sue for wrongful death, but this isn’t always the case.
According to the state’s law, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file this lawsuit. In other words, the executor of the estate is the only eligible party. In many cases, this is also the spouse or closest relative, but not always.
The law also says that any award is paid to the decedent’s heirs instead of to the estate. This means that it isn’t subject to any debts of the estate or to federal and state taxes.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Worth in Alabama?
In most states, a family member that files a wrongful death lawsuit is eligible to receive various damages that include such things as burial expenses, lost earning capacity, and loss of support and companionship. These are not available in an Alabama wrongful death case.
Interestingly, Alabama law regarding wrongful death damages is different than every other state in the nation. Since the purpose of the law is to punish wrongdoers and discourage future similar behavior, the only damages recoverable in these cases are punitive damages.
Juries in Alabama wrongful death cases can award punitive damages as they see fit, but they are not permitted to consider factors such as the value of the decedent’s life or compensation to the survivors. The only considerations allowed when determining awards are how bad the wrongdoer’s conduct was and the defendant’s net worth.
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases are challenging because the plaintiff must prove several things before being awarded punitive damages. Without the assistance of a qualified attorney, this could be an uphill battle. Some of the elements of proof that must be presented include:
- Evidence of duty of care. The plaintiff will need to prove that the defendant owed the decedent a certain duty of care. For example, a driver has a duty not to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
- Breach of duty. The plaintiff must also show that the defendant breached their duty of care through an act of misconduct, willful wrongdoing, or negligence.
- Causation between breach of duty and death. Lastly, the plaintiff will need to prove that there was a proximate cause between the breach of duty and the death.
Under limited circumstances, a surviving family member has the right to a “survival action.” In most cases, this happens when the decedent had a personal injury lawsuit filed prior to passing. A survivor may also be able to pursue a survival action if the at-fault party is deceased. This action would go against the estate of the defendant.
Speak with a Knowledgeable Alabama Wrongful Death Attorney
The attorneys at Haygood, Cleveland, Pierce, Thompson & Short, LLP, have the knowledge and experience necessary to effectively pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in Alabama. Our legal team is passionate about delivering justice to family members who have been wronged by another party’s negligence and understand the importance of pursuing these actions.
If you’ve been impacted by the loss of a family member by the wrongdoing or negligence of another party, put our experience to work on your behalf. Contact our Auburn office today at 334-821-3892 to schedule your free initial consultation.