Losing a loved one can feel very, very unfair, especially if the loved one was killed an accident that could have been prevented, and that took the individual’s life well before their natural time. While there is nothing that a surviving family member can do to change the past and reverse what has happened, filing a wrongful death claim may provide a sense of closure and justice.
At the law offices of the Alsobrook Law Group, our Alabama wrongful death lawyers are here to help you understand our state’s wrongful death laws, how to bring forth a claim, and what steps to take to get started. Please reach out to us today to learn more about whether or not you have a wrongful death claim, as well as who can file a wrongful death action in our state.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama?
In many states, a direct family member or beneficiary of the deceased maintains the right to bring forth a wrongful death claim when the decedent’s death would not have been caused but for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of another. However, in Alabama, a wrongful death action cannot be brought by a family member of the deceased person; instead, the right to bring forth a civil action for wrongful death damages is maintained exclusively by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.
Alabam’s wrongful death code is found in Section 6-5-410 of Alabama Statutes.
Who Is the Personal Representative of the Estate?
In the event that the decedent maintained a will, then the personal representative, also called the executor, of the estate will be named within the will. Often times, this person is a family member, such as a grown child or spouse of the decedent. If there is no will, then the personal representative will be appointed by the court.
The fact that only the personal representative of the decedent maintains the right to bring forth a wrongful death action in Alabama is significant. However, it is not the estate to which damages will be paid; instead, damages recovered in a wrongful death action will be distributed to beneficiaries directly per the rules of intestate succession. As such, there may be some members of the family who, while not named in the decedent’s will, will be entitled to wrongful death damages.
Another Difference in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims
In addition to only allowing the personal representative to bring forth a wrongful death claim for damages and only allowing damages to be paid to the decedent’s estate, there is another distinction that sets wrongful death claims in Alabama apart from this type of civil action in other states: only punitive damages are recoverable. While in other states a wrongful death claim can be pursued for damages associated with the death of the decedent, such as medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, and the value of noneconomic losses (such as loss of guidance or companionship), in Alabama, only punitive damages can be recovered in a wrongful death action.
Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff. As such, it is the degree of wrongfulness and egregiousness of a defendant’s actions that will be considered by the jury in determining a wrongful death award rather than the degree of loss suffered by the decedent or the decedent’s estate/beneficiaries.
Two-Year Statute of Limitation
If you are the personal representative or loved one of an individual who has died due to the wrongful act of another, bringing forth a wrongful death claim may be the only way to hold the at-fault party responsible for their actions, deter others from similar actions in the future, and recover some form of monetary compensation. If you are thinking about filing a wrongful death action, note that you only have two years from the date of the decedent’s death before the statute of limitations expires.
Call Our Alabama Wrongful Death Lawyers Today Wrongful death claims in Alabama are very different from wrongful death actions in other states, and therefore you need a lawyer familiar with our state’s laws to help you navigate your civil action if you’ve lost a family member. To learn more about who can file a wrongful death action in Alabama as well as types of damages recoverable, please reach out to our law firm today by phone at (334) 737-3718 or online to schedule a free consultation.