When your loved one dies as the result of someone else’s negligence or irresponsible behavior, nothing is more natural than to want justice. You may have already looked for ways to demand accountability for the person or organization at fault in your loved one’s death.
In this situation, a wrongful death, there is a very specific legal process for seeking justice for your loved one. While you may be feeling some very strong and understandable emotions, it is important not to let those emotions get the better of you. Without going through the correct legal process, there is no way to hold the parties accountable for the tragedy they have caused.
Our attorney team understands what you are going through, including how difficult it can be to have patience as you seek to understand your legal rights and file a wrongful death claim. We have put together this article to help you understand a little more about how a wrongful death claim works in the state of Alabama, and what rights you may have in the aftermath of your loved one’s wrongful death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Unlike many states, Alabama does not permit the family members of a deceased person to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased or themselves. Only the legal representative of the deceased person (as named in their will or appointed by a court with competent jurisdiction) may file a wrongful death claim. Furthermore, all damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit are paid according to Alabama law of intestate succession.
For the loved ones who survive the victim of wrongful death, this can at first seem incredibly disheartening—it makes it sound as though the family of the deceased is left with no rights or resources.
However, if you are the surviving family of someone who has been the victim of wrongful death, this does not mean that you have no options. It simply requires more knowledge and care to make sure that everything is done in accordance with Alabama state law.
We understand how important it is for your family to receive the resources you deserve in the wake of a loved one’s death. An experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to guide you through the legal process of filing a wrongful death claim and help you understand how each step affects the outcome of your case. Following the correct procedure is key to ensuring that your wrongful death claim is successful.
How Financial Damages Are Awarded
Alabama state law also differs from that of other states in that it only awards punitive damages in a case of wrongful death. This means that financial damages are not assessed based on the loss of the person’s life, the costs associated with their death or the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased and their loved ones. (These are known as compensatory damages.)
Instead, Alabama wrongful death law only allows for punitive damages. In other words, the financial amount determined by the court is intended to punish the party whose negligence caused the death, to deter similar bad conduct, and to preserve life. Judges and juries are expressly instructed by Alabama state law not to consider the impact to the lives of the surviving family members when determining financial damages.
Again, this can seem incredibly unfair when it is your family’s future at stake. This is where a deeper understanding of Alabama state law is crucial. When financial damages are awarded to the estate of the deceased, that financial amount is then distributed to the heirs of the estate. In most cases, this means the spouse and children of the deceased.
By having an attorney on your side who is experienced in working within Alabama state law, you can be assured that someone is fighting for your rights.
Other Considerations for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama
There are many other very specific ways that Alabama state law regulates the filing of a wrongful death claim. These include the statute of limitations (or time limit for filing the claim), determining who will be the representative of the estate, how financial damages are distributed to the heirs when the deceased did not leave a will, and much more. It can be very daunting to deal with the legal process, especially when you are grieving the death of someone you love.
If you have questions and need help understanding your options in a case of wrongful death, contact the law firm of Pittman, Dutton & Hellums. Our experienced attorneys are here to help you by talking over your case, at no cost or obligation to you.