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Losing a family member in an accident is awful. Many emotions are involved – anger, sadness, and usually a sense that justice must be obtained. That’s the purpose of a wrongful death claim.

At Siniard Law, we have recovered tens of millions of dollars for the families of wrongful death victims.  Learn more about our results:

A wrongful death case can arise out of car wrecks, nursing home mistakes, on-the-job accidents, and any other incident where someone negligently causes a death.

The same principles of law apply as if the individual was simply injured. However, additional principles apply regarding how damages are calculated and how settlement money is distributed.

What Is Wrongful Death in Alabama?

The Alabama Code provides for certain individuals to file a legal claim when someone else’s “wrongful act, omission, or negligence” causes the death of another person. If the decedent would have been able to file a legal claim against the party for such a wrongful act, omission, or negligence, certain family members can file a wrongful death action in Alabama. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death occurs when someone does something that causes the death of another person or when they fail to do something to prevent their death and this conduct rises to the level of negligence. Common examples of wrongful death cases include those that occur in:

An act of negligence that results in the death of another can provide grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. 

A wrongful death claim can also arise out of the defendant’s intentional misconduct, such as nursing home abuse or murder. 

To succeed with a wrongful death claim, you must be able to establish the causal link between the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct and your loved one’s death. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Alabama law is specific about who has the right to bring the claim.

Only the personal representative of the deceased’s estate has standing to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. If the deceased had a will, the will would have already chosen the personal representative (also known as an executor or executrix.)

Assuming the deceased never executed a will, then the probate judge for the county where the deceased resided can designate a personal representative.  Priority to be the representative is in this order under Ala. Code 43-2-42:

  1. Spouse
  2. Next of kin
  3. The largest creditor of the estate
  4. Another individual is chosen by the probate judge

There is an exception if the deceased is a child.  If the deceased is a child, then an estate is not necessary. A parent can file the lawsuit directly.

Who Establishes the Estate?

We can assist with the process of establishing an estate.  We can also assist with having the personal representative appointed by the appropriate probate court.

If we believe the case has merit, we can advance all costs associated with this process so that you do not have to pay any upfront fees.

The Money That Can Be Received in a Wrongful Death Case

In Alabama, the only damages that can be collected in a wrongful death case are punitive damages.  Punitive damages are money awarded by a judge or jury to punish the wrongdoer.

Thus, a big part of a wrongful death claim is financially punishing the wrongdoer for the death of your loved one. Unfortunately, you cannot seek compensation for loss of enjoyment of life, nor any compensation for pain and suffering. 

When a wrongful death lawsuit is tried, the jury is instructed to determine the amount of damages, which must relate to the defendant’s wrongdoing. Any money awarded goes to the deceased person’s heirs. Therefore, a key component of an Alabama wrongful death lawsuit is understanding who can be held legally responsible for the death so that you can maximize your financial recovery.

Who Is Responsible for a Wrongful Death?

Many parties can potentially be held liable in a wrongful death action. Our experienced wrongful death lawyers can investigate your case, collect evidence to unearth the negligence of each responsible party, and fight for the financial recovery you deserve. 

Depending on the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death, one or more of the following parties may be legally responsible: 

  • Motorists – If a negligent motorist causes a pedestrian, bicycle, motorcycle, or car accident, they may be responsible for the wrongful death. 
  • Trucking companies – Trucking companies are responsible for the actions of their drivers. They are also responsible for ensuring that they hire qualified drivers, follow all relevant regulations, and maintain their fleet. If they act negligently, they may be responsible for the natural consequences.
  • Employers – Employers are generally responsible for the negligent actions of their employees that occur within the course and scope of their employment.
  • Doctors – Doctors who violate the standard of care and kill their patients can be held legally liable for resulting deaths. 
  • Property owners – Even if your loved one was killed in a violent attack, you may have valid legal grounds to file a wrongful death claim against the property owner if negligent security allowed the attack to occur.
  • Nursing homes – Nursing homes can be held responsible in cases involving abuse or neglect.

Civil Actions Vs. Criminal Cases

Wrongful death claims are civil actions, not criminal cases. The defendant’s conduct does not have to be considered criminal for you to file a wrongful death claim. Most wrongful death claims are based on negligence, meaning that the defendant had a legal duty to act or not act in a certain way, they breached that duty, and in so doing, they caused the victim’s death. 

In some cases, criminal conduct may be involved, such as in drunk driving cases. However, a conviction in a criminal case is not necessary for there to be financial recovery in a civil case. The burden of proof in criminal cases is higher. The prosecution must prove that the defendant committed all elements of the crime by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the burden of proof is much lower, only requiring that you show that the actions more likely than not occur as you assert. 

Even if the defendant is not found criminally culpable, they may still be civilly liable for causing your loved one’s death. 

How Are Wrongful Death Lawyers Paid?

Our attorneys are only paid if we win the wrongful death case.  We work on a contingency fee, which means we are paid a percentage of the settlement only if we win your case. 

Depending on the facts of your particular case, that contingency fee can be anywhere from 33.3% to 45%.  The factors determining the fee percentage include the degree of difficulty of the case and whether the case is settled pre-suit or must be litigated.

Does the Settlement Money Pass Through the Estate?

No.  Settlements after a death do not pass through the estate.  The money is not subject to the deceased’s debts.  The money passes directly to the heirs according to the Rules of Intestacy.

In addition, the settlement money is not taxable under the IRS Tax Code, Section 104(a)(2).

Nursing Home Death Claims

We have handled numerous death claims related to poor medical care at nursing homes. As a matter of law, the only money we can collect in such cases is for punitive damages. These damages are designed to punish nursing homes for their failures.

Our senior attorney Tommy Siniard has settled more nursing home death cases than any attorney in north Alabama. He is widely known in the legal community to be one of the best nursing home abuse lawyers in Alabama.

How Can a Huntsville Wrongful Death Lawyer Help Me?

If your loved one died due to another party’s negligence, you are likely struggling with grief and trying to keep your family together during this difficult time. You are probably not worrying about making legal claims. However, you have a limited amount of time to take legal action to seek justice for the defendant’s negligence. 

Our legal team can meet with you in a confidential setting to discuss your wrongful death claim. We will treat you with compassion and respect and provide you with comfort during this difficult time. We want you to be able to focus on yourself and your family without having to worry about your legal claim and seeking accountability from the party responsible for your loved one’s death. We can handle the administrative tasks, provide you with targeted legal advice, and demand the justice you and your family deserve while you focus on your grief.

Time Limit to File an Alabama Wrongful Death Claim 

Alabama Code § 6-2-38 establishes the time limit to file wrongful death claims. In most cases, the time limit is two years from the date of death. However, the deadline can be much shorter in some cases – such as those against the city or county. If you fail to file a lawsuit within the applicable time limit, you can forfeit your right to recover compensation through the courts. 

You can learn more about the filing deadline in your case and how a wrongful death lawyer can help by reaching out for a free case consultation today.

We Are Here to Help

If your family member has died due to the negligence of someone else, we are here to help. Our personal injury attorneys have obtained more than $175 million for our deserving clients throughout northern Alabama. While we know that no amount of money can ever make up for your tragic loss, you should not have to deal with financial uncertainty because of someone else’s wrongful conduct. We are here to demand the justice and accountability you deserve. Reach out for a free case evaluation.