What is Considered a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when a person is fatally injured due to another person, business, or government’s negligence, omission, or misconduct. A wrongful death lawsuit is c onsidered a civil action that is separate from criminal charges. Usually, a civil suit has a lower burden of proof than its criminal counterpart. Examples of wrongful death in the State of Alabama include but are not limited to a negligence-based incident, medical malpractice, birth injuries, occupational hazards, product defects, premises liability, or an intentional act, which includes crime.
What is Needed to Prove a Wrongful Death Claim?
As previously mentioned, the burden of proof for a wrongful death claim is lower than it is for criminal charges. For a civil wrongful death suit, the petitioner must prove a duty of care was owed to the decedent; the responsible party then breached that duty via negligent action or wrongful conduct, the loss of life was a direct result of said breach of duty, and economic damages were suffered as a result of the offending party’s negligence or misconduct.
An experienced personal injury lawyer, such as those found at The Hazzard Law Firm, LLC, will be able to help clients understand their case and assist them with finding the necessary resources needed to ensure justice is delivered.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The State of Alabama determines who can file a wrongful death lawsuit based on the age of the deceased party. For an adult decedent, only the personal representative or executor is able to file a claim. For a minor decedent, recognized as anyone 19 years of age or under, his or her legal guardian has six months from the date of the minor’s death to file a claim. After that time has passed, the claim must be filed by the minor’s personal representative. If an executor was not listed in the deceased’s will, the probate court will assign one. Probate courts assign executors in this order: first, the spouse, followed by next of kin, which usually means heirs such as children, and finally, the largest creditor of the estate and any other person the probate court may wish to appoint. The family of the deceased has 40 days from the date of the death to petition the probate court to be the personal representative of the deceased’s estate.
How are Wrongful Death Claims Settled?
Unlike most states, the Alabama Supreme Court awards only punitive damages versus compensatory damages to the petitioner. The punitive damages serve as a punishment towards the defendant and a deterrent to other would-be negligent parties. Alabama currently recognizes no limit for punitive damages awarded to a surviving party. However, damages are typically proportional to the defendant’s wrongful actions. For example, if a death is the result of a negligent action, such as a slip and fall caused by a wet floor in a business, it may be punished less harshly than a death as the result of driving while under the influence.
Who Receives the Settlement in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Any settlement granted during a wrongful death lawsuit is distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy outline a default system of who inherits money and assets when there is no will present. The four most common intestacy rules for Alabama are:
- When a person dies with children but no spouse, the children will inherit all of the settlement.
- When a person dies with a spouse but no children or parents, the spouse will inherit all of the settlement.
- When a person dies with a spouse and children, the spouse will inherit the first $50,000 of the damage award and half of the damage award’s balance. Children inherit the remaining settlement money.
- Conversely, if a person dies with no spouse and no children but with living parents, then their parents will be awarded the settlement.
How Long Does a Claim Have to be Filed?
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in the State of Alabama is typically two years from the date of the person’s death. However, there are certain instances where a family member has less time to file. If a city or government agency caused the death, there is a six-month time limit to file a claim. If a county government caused the death, there is a 12-month time limit to file a claim
What Are Some Defense Options for Those at Fault for a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death lawsuit may be defended or barred in several ways. Commonly, those ways include the following:
- Statute of limitations–timely filing of a suit
- Causation–proof by the plaintiff that the responsible party’s conduct solely caused or contributed to the death
- Comparative negligence–conduct by the deceased party that contributed to his or her own demise
Do I Need an Attorney to Handle My Case?
Losing a loved one is never easy. Navigating this difficult time should not be exacerbated by interpreting legal technicalities. A skilled attorney can help you do the necessary research, gather the required evidence, and ensure all of the proper paperwork is filled out and filed correctly. Getting an attorney as early as possible will help to ensure a solid case is formed. Let the experienced lawyers at the Hazzard Law Firm, LLC, handle the hard work of fighting for justice for your loved one. Contact us today at 205-881-5641 or by filling out our contact form.