Alabama’s Wrongful Death Statute
Alabama defines wrongful death in Alabama Code §6-5-410. When an individual’s death is caused by another person, entity, or business, and the deceased individual could have sued for the injuries, if they had lived, then a wrongful death claim might arise from the circumstances involved.
If your heir-at-law recently died in an accident, fire, car crash or other situation that is not a “natural death” (such as from a disease of aging) and you believe another person, entity, or business was or is responsible, it is advisable that you speak with a wrongful death attorney immediately.
An experienced Alabama wrongful death lawyer will need to carefully review the facts and law to determine if, based on their specific experience and legal knowledge, there is a valid wrongful death cause of action to be pursued by you or the heirs.
Wrongful death claims can arise out of almost any situation in which one person causes another individual’s death, due to negligence, wantoness, or even intentional misconduct. This type of legal claim is common after:
- Car, Motorcycle, Pedestrian accident
- Medical Malpractice
- Work Accident
- Motorcycle accident
- Big Truck accident
- Death while in police/prison custody
A wrongful death suit is solely a civil claim and has no bearing on, nor is dependent upon, any criminal charges being filed against any one person. Keep in mind that a criminal case could be relevant to the wrongful death suit but it is in no way necessary to the civil claims that may exist. Not all deaths are the fault of another person or company.
Who Can File a Lawsuit?
Only the heirs. Heirs, through a personal representative, can pursue a wrongful death claim. These claims are not affected nor directed by the Last Will and Testament, if one was left by the decedent. Funds recovered from a wrongful death claim, in Alabama, pass “outside the estate” of the deceased and can not be directed by a will. Even funds paid by an insurance company who insured the at-fault party can not determine who will get the funds. The distribution of the funds are completely determined by the Alabama Probate Code, not the will. The estate can consist of two sets of heirs, those who inherit in the will and those who inherit at law. This is due to the fact that wrongful death proceeds have been determined by Alabama courts to be “punitive” in nature and not compensatory. None of the wrongful death proceeds are subject to estate claims for burial or medical treatment. Any settlement reached with the at-fault party must carefully denote this or the funds could be subject to claims of the estate.
There are Time Limits on Alabama Wrongful Death Suits
A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed or settled within two years of the deceased person’s date of death. Waiting is almost always a very poor choice, especially if you believe a good cause of action exits or that the facts may support a Wrongful death claim. Waiting only cause documents and evidence no become lost, misplaced, or even forgotten. The earlier the heirs take action on a potential wrongful death claim, the better. If a governmental entity is involved, specific notices must be provided to them in very short notice windows. For municipalities, written notice must be given within 6 months and within 12 months to a county. If these time limits expire, so does any chance of recovery. Waiting too long could also lead to important evidence being lost forever and the loss of people’s memories of the event(s), not to mention the depletion of assets or the simple corrosive effect time has on a claim. Hiring a Birmingham Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney is always the best course of action to protect any rights and claims that could exist.
You might feel confident that you have a valid wrongful death claim. However, proving a wrongful death claim and believing the claim is valid are two entirely differently things. Sometimes the person who can give the best account of what occurred is the deceased person. This may sound a bit strange but the deceased person might be able to “testify” through their evidence they left behind. This could be things such as text messages, phone messages, complaints filed, or other things.
There are many things that can be used to as evidence in a case of wrongful death, including, but not limited to:
- Eye Witness testimony
- Videos, Photos, and Audio files
- Specific Documents
- Accident & Police reports
- Business records
- Medical Treatment records
- Family member testimony
- Testimony from Expert Witnesses
- Phone records
- Bills/Cleared Checks/Credit Card Statements
In every legal case, there are different elements of things you must prove to be successful in your claim. Each claim is different and can be proven in Alabama courts in many different ways.
If you claims are based on negligence, you must prove the 4 elements of a negligence case (duty, breach, causation, and damages). You may even allege that the conduct was intentional or wanton and reckless.
Wrongful death lawsuits and claims in Alabama focus on the wrongdoing of the Defendant.
Wrongful death claims belong solely to the survivors of someone who has died. It is important to keep in mind that not all claims survive a person’s death. For example, personal injury claims not filed before a person dies are bared from being filed after that person has died. If someone was injured in an accident and there is a chance of death, it might be wise to proceed with filing the lawsuit into court, to preserve the personal injury claims of that person. These claims may be work significantly more than a claim for wrongful death.
Wrongful death in Alabama is an unusual area of law that requires experience and a very hard look at the facts involved.