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Damages Recoverable under Alabama Wrongful Death?

Posted on November 22, 2018

 

A wrongful death lawsuit can be an extremely complex legal case, and every state has unique laws covering who may file these claims, the damages available, time limits for filing, and many other factors. However, in Alabama, potential procedural traps may complicate a wrongful death claim. It’s vital for anyone considering a wrongful death claim to understand how these claims work and how a Birmingham personal injury attorney skilled in Alabama wrongful death law can help.

Alabama Wrongful Death Statutes

Alabama law defines a wrongful death as any fatality caused by an intentional tort, omission, or negligence. A wrongful death claim functions very much like a personal injury claim on behalf of the deceased, but most states allow the deceased’s relatives or a personal representative of the deceased’s estate to handle the lawsuit. However, Alabama law does not allow the relatives of a deceased individual to file wrongful death claims on their own behalf or on behalf of the decedent.

Any wrongful death claim in Alabama requires a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Unlike other states, in Alabama only the estate may recover damages for a wrongful death. Although some wrongful deaths arise from criminal acts, Alabama law does not require criminal charges against a defendant for a claimant to file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit filed by a private claimant. However, Alabama law does not allow claimants to receive compensatory damages from wrongful death claims.

Compensation Available in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims

In Alabama, a judge reviewing a wrongful death claim will focus almost entirely on the defendant’s wrongdoing that led to the death in question. The purpose of this approach is to punish the defendant for negligence and deter similar actions in the future, both from the defendant and others. Alabama is the only state to allow punitive damages from a wrongful death claim, but the state does not permit any compensatory damages. Many believe this is grossly unfair to the surviving loved ones as it rarely covers the total economic impact of an untimely death.

The plaintiff in a wrongful death lawsuit does not recover compensation for medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering, or any other damages resulting from an untimely death. An Alabama wrongful death lawsuit will lead to punitive damages paid directly to the heirs of the estate.

Time Limits for Filing

Depending on the defendant in a wrongful death claim, the statute of limitations or time limit for filing a lawsuit will vary. Generally, a wrongful death claim against a private party must meet a two-year statute of limitations. The two-year limit starts counting down on the date the death occurred, but some factors may delay, or toll, the statute.

For example, if doctors cannot determine a patient’s cause of death for several weeks or months, or a police investigation cannot identify the party responsible for a death by intentional tort, the statute of limitations may extend to six months after the date of discovery of the cause of death.

There are also different time limits for filing wrongful death claims against government agencies or public offices. For example, filing a lawsuit at the city or county level against a government entity may only allow a six-month statute of limitations. Additionally, anyone with such a wrongful death claim must also file a Notice of Claim to the defendant before filing a lawsuit

Navigating Alabama’s complex wrongful death laws is very difficult without experienced legal representation. Anyone considering a wrongful death claim or estate representatives with grounds for wrongful death claims should hire experienced wrongful death attorneys. Countless procedural issues arise in Alabama wrongful death claims, and these claims often run in tandem with criminal prosecution from the state. It’s essential to find a Birmingham wrongful death attorney with experience handling these claims.