If a loved one has died due to wrongful conduct of another, you may be thinking about filing a wrongful death lawsuit. This article covers everything you need to know about wrongful death in Alabama.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Before you go further, you need to know what Alabama law says about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Not just anyone can file the lawsuit.
General Rule — The “Personal Representative”
In Alabama, only the personal representative of the deceased’s estate has the legal authority to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, the deceased will have named the personal representative (also known as an “executor”) in his or her will.
If the deceased had no will, then an Alabama probate court will appoint a personal representative. Preference is given by the probate courts in this order pursuant to Ala. Code 43-2-42:
- Next of kin (this means heirs such as children)
- The largest creditor of the estate
- Any other person the probate court may wish to appoint
Exception When Deceased Was a Child
There is an exception if the deceased is a minor based on Ala. Code 6-5-391. If the deceased is a child, then the mother or father can file a lawsuit without having to be appointed personal representative. However, the parent must file the lawsuit within six months of the child’s death. If the wrongful death lawsuit has not been filed within six months, then only a personal representative can bring the lawsuit.
How is the Settlement Money Divided?
In Alabama, the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement are distributed according to the rules of intestacy. The rules of intestacy are basically a default system defining who inherits money and assets when someone dies without a will. Even if the deceased did have a will, the settlement money will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
Here are the four most common intestacy rules for Alabama wrongful death settlement proceeds:
(1) When someone dies with children but no spouse, the children will inherit all of the settlement
(2) When someone dies with a spouse but no children or parents, the spouse will inherit all of the settlement
(3) When someone 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
(4) When the decedent dies with living parents but no spouse or children, the parents will inherit the total settlement.
What Type of Compensation is Available?
Alabama has a unique rule for compensation for wrongful death. In many states, you can seek compensation for the deceased’s pain and suffering, the deceased’s loss of income, and for your own mental distress. However, in Alabama, these types of compensation are unavailable.
In Alabama, the sole measure of compensation for the deceased’s family is punitive damages.
The purpose of punitive damages is to preserve the sanctity of human life and to deter the defendant and others from similar future conduct. — Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions
If the wrongful death case does not a settle, a jury will determine the amount of money that accomplishes those two objectives.
In addition, how much compensation is available usually depends on how much insurance coverage is available. While a defendant is liable for the entire verdict, in most situations, you can realistically only collect the full amount of insurance coverage. However, if the defendant has significant assets or property, you might can collect directly from the at-fault party.
Wrongful death lawsuits in Alabama must be filed in court within 2 years of the date of death. There are no exceptions. If the lawsuit has not been filed within that time period, then the case will be dismissed upon motion by the defense attorney.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
A wrongful death arises whenever an individual or company acts wrongfully in causing someone’s death. Wrongful deaths occur in a variety of contexts, such as:
- car accidents
- trucking accidents
- nursing home negligence
- medical malpractice
- industrial accidents
- defective products
- intentional homicide
The death could have been due to an accident or could have been committed intentionally. There could also also be criminal charges against the at-fault party depending on the circumstances.
We Are With You
If you have lost a loved one due to wrongful conduct, we are with you. We have handled hundreds of wrongful death cases in Alabama.
Let us review the case to see if there is merit for a wrongful death lawsuit. Our attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis and there is no cost for us to review the case.