Crash fatalities are common in Alabama. In 2019 – the most recent year for which numbers are available – 930 Alabamans died in car crashes. While this number may not seem large, Alabama ranks fifth in the nation for crash fatalities per capita. In 2019, 19 out of every 100,000 Alabamans died in a car accident. The national average was 11 per 100,000.
Of all possible outcomes in an accident, death is the most difficult. When a loved one is lost in a crash, the grief and pain can seem unbearable. However, survivors have legal rights in this situation. This article will explain a bit about how Alabama wrongful death claims work.
What is Wrongful Death?
Alabama law says that a wrongful death suit can be filed based on another person’s “wrongful act, omission, or negligence.” Basically, this means that a wrongful death is any death brought about through another person’s careless or reckless behavior. Because it focuses on negligent actions, a person can bring a wrongful death claim even if no criminal charges are filed against the defendant.
Note that in Alabama, a loved one can bring a wrongful death suit not only against a person, but also against businesses and their employees.
Who Can File an Alabama Wrongful Death Claim?
The answer to this question depends on the age of the person who passed.
If the person was over age 19 at the time of the accident, Alabama applies a unique rule. While other states automatically allow spouses, children, or other loved ones to file wrongful death suits for adults, in Alabama only the personal representative (sometimes called an “executor” or “administrator”) can file the claim.
If the person was under age 19, the child’s mother or father can file the wrongful death claim. However, if they do not do so within six months, the personal representative must file it.
How Do I Become a Personal Representative in Alabama?
The law provides two ways to become a personal representative. First, if your loved wrote a will and named you as their personal representative, the court will honor this request.
Second, if there is no will, you can ask the probate (wills and estates) court to appoint you as the personal representative. Family members who want to act as representatives must make their request to the court within 40 days of the loved one’s passing. After 40 days, the court can appoint a non-family member to the position.
Alabama law places few restrictions on who can serve as a personal representative. In Alabama, the personal representative must be at least 19 years old and of sound mind. In addition, the potential representative cannot have been convicted of an “infamous crime” such as embezzlement or perjury.
How Long Do I Have to File an Alabama Wrongful Death Claim?
Every legal action must be filed within a certain amount of time. Lawyers call this the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for Alabama wrongful death claims is two years. However, it is wise to visit an attorney as soon as you are able to so do.
Will I Automatically Win My Wrongful Death Case?
No. Even though your loved one died, there are several factors that must be considered. Most important, the person who passed must have been able to file a suit on their own had they survived.
Another important consideration is the actions of your loved one in the accident. Alabama is a contributory negligence state. This means that if your loved one was even one percent responsible for causing the accident, there can be no recovery. An experienced attorney can help you prove that your loved one was not at fault.
What Kind of Damages Can be Recovered in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims?
Damages are money that juries award to plaintiffs. As I wrote in a prior post, there are two types of damages. Compensatory damages reimburse plaintiffs for items such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. On the other hand, punitive damages punish a defendant for outlandish behavior. Rather than focusing on how much the plaintiff lost, punitive damages focus on how badly the defendant acted compared to others.
Alabama wrongful death cases apply a unique rule. In Alabama, wrongful death plaintiffs can only receive punitive damages. So, in Alabama, rather than focusing on the plaintiff’s financial losses, courts focus instead on whether the defendant behaved badly. For example, if the accident cost your family thousands of dollars in hospital bills but the defendant only displayed an average level of negligence, your wrongful death claim will not succeed. However, if the defendant behaved in an extremely reckless manner, you may likely recover no matter the amount of your financial losses.
Who Can Receive Damages in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims?
The question of who can recover is complex. In Alabama, anyone who could recover if the victim had died without a will is entitled to recovery. This is so even if your loved one had a will.
For example, a married man with three children writes a will leaving all of his property to the University of Alabama. After he dies in a car accident, his wife becomes the personal representative and files a wrongful death suit. She wins $250,000. Under Alabama law, the law will award her $50,000 plus half of what’s left – in this case $100,000 – for a total of $150,000. The children will share the remaining $100,000 equally. The university gets nothing.
Do You Want to Know More about Alabama Wrongful Death Claims?
Losing a loved one is always difficult. It is more difficult when they were lost due to someone else’s negligence. We can help.
If want to file a wrongful death suit, please reach out contact Collins Law, LLC. Our team has the legal knowledge you need and the compassion you deserve. Click here or call 205-588-1411 to schedule a free consultation.