Losing someone you love because of the negligence of another individual, business, or entity is indescribably devastating. If you've lost a family member due to an accident in Alabama, we want you to know that you have our sincerest condolences. We understand that fatal accidents that result in wrongful death can happen unexpectedly and leave surviving family members stunned and grieving – with an empty void that feels as if it will never go away.
The skilled, experienced, and empathetic Gadsden wrongful death lawyers at Mike Bell Accident & Injury Lawyers know that nothing can ease the inexplicable pain and anguish you feel after the death of a loved one. When a fatal accident results in the death of your loved one – whether it involved medical malpractice, a car accident, or something else, you can hold the at-fault party accountable by seeking financial compensation.
The Gadsden personal injury lawyers at Mike Bell Accident & Injury Lawyers will treat your family with respect and compassion as we help you navigate Alabama's complicated legal system and obtain a successful outcome for your wrongful death claim. You can get justice and compensation for your loved one's wrongful death, and we can help. Please call us at 256-666-6000 to schedule a free consultation.
How Is Wrongful Death Defined In The State Of Alabama?
Alabama Code § 6-5-410 defines “wrongful death” as the loss of life that is caused by:
- Negligence, or
- A wrongful act of another party.
The statute specifies that a wrongful death claim is a civil action which the personal representative of the decedent's estate (who can be a family member) and is a separate matter from whatever criminal charges the at-fault arty or defendant may also face. So, even if the individual or entity at fault in causing the death of your loved one is tried or acquitted of a crime, they can still face a wrongful death claim and be held financially accountable in Alabama civil courts.
Note that there's a strict two-year time limit (from the date of death) for filing a wrongful death claim in Alabama. Contact our Gadsden wrongful death lawyers and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to review your case.
Who Qualifies To Sue For Wrongful Death In Alabama?
Since the victim in a wrongful death case (the deceased) is unable to seek compensation from the defendant, someone else must seek compensation on behalf of the deceased. There are strict requirements for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. The law only allows specific individuals to file wrongful death lawsuits in Alabama. Whoever can bring a wrongful death claim is defined based on whether the decedent (the person who died) was a minor or adult at the time of death.
If the Deceased Was an Adult
In many states, family members of the deceased person are allowed to file a wrongful death claim. But in Alabama, only the deceased person's estate personal representative (called an “executor” in some instances) is allowed to file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative is the person responsible for executing the decedent's estate. If the deceased individual fails to mention an executor in their will, an Alabama probate court will appoint a personal representative on the decedent's behalf.
If the Deceased Was a Minor
There is an exception in situations where the decedent was a minor. In Alabama, a minor is defined as someone below the age of 19 years. If the deceased person was a minor, Alabama law allows the father or mother to sue for wrongful death within six months from the child's death date. After the end of those six months, the personal representative of the minor must file the claim.
The executor must include every surviving family member interested in the case in the wrongful death claim. Surviving family members who may be eligible to recover damages in an Alabama wrongful death claim include:
- Any living spouse
- Parents of a deceased minor
- Any adult children if there is no living spouse
- Children who are under 25 years of age
- Each parent of an adult child, if no other survivors exist
- Adoptive children or blood relatives (brother or sister) who partly depended on the decedent when they were alive.
A child born out of wedlock can also recover damages in a wrongful death claim if either parent dies. However, this is only possible if the deceased parents had recognized the child as their own and were obligated to support him or her.
What Types Of Damages Are Recoverable?
In Alabama, wrongful death cases are unique and different from most other states, particularly with the type of recoverable damages. Unlike in most states where the decedent's beneficiaries can recover compensatory damages like medical costs, lost wages, lost earning capacity, etc. In an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit, you can only recover punitive damages.
While compensatory damages compensate an injured victim and their family, punitive damages are meant to punish the responsible party's wrongdoings and discourage them and others from engaging in similar actions in the future.
To be awarded punitive damages, you need to show more than just simple negligence on the part of the defendant. You will need to show and provide proof that the defendant's omission or actions that caused the death of your loved one were malicious, willful, or grossly negligent. To recover punitive damages, you will need to work with a lawyer with in-depth experience handling wrongful death cases and a good track record of securing favorable results for their clients.
Can Surviving Family File For Punitive Damages In Alabama?
Yes, the deceased person's surviving family can be awarded punitive damages. As a matter of fact, surviving family members of a deceased person in Alabama are only entitled to punitive damages meant to punish the defendant. This makes Alabama wrongful death claims difficult.
How is Negligence Proved In A Wrongful Death Case?
For a person to be liable for wrongful death, your claim needs to satisfy the four elements of negligence; duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. You need to show that the defendant was negligent by proving the following elements:
Duty of Care
When someone has a duty of care for another person, they are legally obliged to provide or exercise reasonable care to ensure that person's well-being or safety. First, there must be evidence that the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care.
Breach of Duty
When someone fails to fulfill their duty of care, they are said to have breached it. There should be evidence that the at-fault party/defendant breached their duty of care to the deceased resulting in the decedent's death.
The plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence that the defendant's wrongful actions lead to the deceased person's death. This is the simplest element to prove in a wrongful death claim because the damage suffered was the deceased person's untimely demise.
Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's actions directly caused the decedent's death to succeed in a wrongful death case. Causation means the decedent's death could have been avoided if the defendant had not acted or conducted themselves negligently or criminally. In other words, were it not for the defendant's omission, wrongful act, or negligence, the decedent's death could have been avoided.
Once all the four negligence elements are proven, then the defendant will likely be found liable for the death, resulting in a successful wrongful death lawsuit.
A Gadsden wrongful death lawyer from Mike Bell Accident & Injury Lawyers can prove all fundamental elements of negligence and help establish the defendant's negligence and fault.
Alabama's Pure Contributory Negligence Rule
It should be well understood that Alabama is a pure contributory negligence state. Under the pure contributory law, if the decedent shared even a fraction or any percentage of fault, the entire wrongful death claim can be thrown out. This means that regardless of how egregious the defendant's conduct was, if the deceased was at fault in any way, it will constitute a bar to recovery of damages for wrongful death.
What Is The Claims Process For A Wrongful Death Claim In Alabama?
When someone you cherish dies a wrongful death, you can pursue compensation for their wrongful death. Typically a wrongful death claim in Alabama involves the following steps:
Preparing for a lawsuit is the first step of a wrongful death claim. The executor of the decedent's estate needs to do the following in preparation for the lawsuit:
Set Up the Estate
The Alabama wrongful death attorney must file the wrongful death claim in the county where the decedent might have brought a personal injury claim, had he survived, and it must be brought before the end of two years from the time of death.
The survivors, in collaboration with their attorney and other experts, will then launch an inquiry to investigate the facts and circumstances leading up to the death.
Determining and Notifying Responsible Parties
In this step, your attorney will need to establish the at-fault parties and inform them about the intent to file a civil lawsuit.
Negotiation & Settling
The defendant may want to settle the case out of court. If the defendant offers you a reasonable and fair settlement, you may want to consider taking the deal since you will not have to worry about losing the lawsuit. If you fail to reach an agreement, you still have a right to proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit. Your Gadsden wrongful death lawyer will be the chief negotiator and will only consult you on vital decisions.
Filing the Suit
If negotiations are not successful, you may want to consider suing for wrongful death. A Gadsden lawyer will help you begin this process by filing a writ of summons or a complaint in the courthouse. All mentioned defendants will be served with the writ of summons.
The final step in an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit is litigation. It involves tasks like interrogations, discovery, submission of requested documents, etc. Additionally, this step consists of the pre-trial, trial, and arbitration. There may still be negotiations during the litigation process, but the case will go to trial if the parties don't come to a consensus. Finally, the judge or jury will issue a verdict to determine the amount of compensation or settlement award to be assigned to the decedent's estate.
What Is The Difference Between An Estate Claim and A Wrongful Death Claim And In Alabama?
An estate claim should not be confused with a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim is a cause of action for the family member's loss or the estate – not the deceased. It revolves around the decedent's family and allows the estate's executor to file a civil claim for damages. A wrongful death claim arises upon the decedent's demise, not upon the date of the injury.
An estate claim (sometimes referred to as a survivor's claim), on the other hand, is a cause of action that continues despite a deceased person's death. An estate claim is a cause of action that does not end because someone passes away. In a survivor's claim, surviving family members can recover similar damages to what the deceased person could have recovered in a personal injury claim had they survived, including the decedent's pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, etc. In an estate claim, the settlement is dispersed through the decedent's estate instead of being distributed directly to surviving family members.
You Can Rely On Our Gadsden Wrongful Death Lawyers For Your Claim
If someone dear to you died due to another person's negligence, you have a legal right to seek compensation from the responsible party. While no amount of compensation can bring back your loved one, or ease the pain and mental anguish of losing a loved one, the wrongful death attorneys at Mike Bell Accident & Injury Lawyers can help you get the justice you deserve and hold responsible parties accountable.
We have won many wrongful death cases in Alabama, and your Gadsden wrongful death claim could be next. We work on a contingency arrangement, meaning we only get paid if we win your case.
If someone dear to you suffered a wrongful death, please call us at 256-666-6000 and let us help you understand your rights and the type of compensation available to you under Alabama law. Your consultation appointment is free.