The nature of a wrongful death suit can vary from case to case. Whether you are dealing with a vehicle accident, medical malpractice, construction accident or something completely different, filing a wrongful death suit isn’t easy. In Alabama, wrongful death cases look different from many other states, so knowing what you are getting into beforehand may help in making sure you have a case and whether a lawsuit should be filed.
Proving Wrongful Death
Proving wrongful death without an attorney can be hard. You should always call an experienced personal injury attorney to help you understand all that goes into a wrongful death case. There are a few basics to knowing if you have a wrongful death case or not. The first thing that has to be proven is the existence of a duty of care. Duty of care is a legal obligation of one person or company to always act in the best interest of the harmed person. The second thing that must be proven is whether that duty of care between the defendant and the deceased was breached. You must prove that the defendant caused harm through negligence, willful intent or misconduct.
The last thing that needs to be proven is that the breached duty of care caused or played a part in the loss of the plaintiff’s life. While doing so may seem easy, this is where a lot of other evidentiary factors come into play, and one of the main witnesses is not able to tell his or her side of the story. If there is already a criminal case or charges being brought against the defendant, evidence could be easier to find; but, a criminal case doesn’t have to be brought in order for you to bring a lawsuit against someone for wrongful death. An experienced attorney will be able to look at the case with clear, unbiased eyes and give their perspective on it.
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Claiming Wrongful Death
Once you decide if you and your attorney believe that you have enough evidence for a wrongful death lawsuit, it is time to make a claim. Claiming wrongful death in Alabama is harder than it may seem. Family members can’t bring about a wrongful death claim against someone. The personal representative of the deceased must make the claim. If a personal representative wasn’t appointed through a will, a family member has 40 days after death to apply. If 40 days pass, the court will appoint a personal representative. A family member could be a representative, but it could be someone who is not a relative.
There is a statute of limitations associated with wrongful death. You must file a claim within two years to the day that the death occurred. While two years is a good amount of time, starting earlier will make evidence easier to find and preserve. Also, the earlier you file the claim, the earlier the case will be concluded. Getting an attorney in this situation will take the weight off your shoulders and allow you to focus on your family during this difficult time.
Alabama is different again in the way that damages are recovered for wrongful death claims. Alabama doesn’t allow compensatory damages to be taken into account when deciding how much you can recover. Only punitive damages, meaning damages that are meant to punish the defendant, or person who was negligent in causing the death, can be recovered. Punitive damages serve to punish the wrongdoer and deter the negligent conduct in the future. The hope is that the defendant will think through what they have done and stop the unsafe conduct. Jurors are instructed to award an amount that is equal to the defendant’s wrongful actions.
All the damages awarded will be split between the heirs of the deceased, and pass outside of their estate. The personal representative may not be an heir, and even though they are the ones to file a claim, they may not get any money. Even those that are in the will of the deceased, but aren’t direct heirs will likely not get any money. There is a cap on how much money can be awarded depending on who the wrongful death lawsuit is against. An experienced attorney will help maximize the amount you are awarded, as well as get you the justice you deserve.
Alabama laws are different from the majority of other states when it comes to wrongful death. Understanding them can be confusing, but getting an attorney experienced in handling these cases will help in relieving some of the pressure of it all. Your main priority should be you and your family during this hard time. Know that you have time to figure it all out and to take care of yourself first.