Losing a spouse, parent, or child in a preventable accident is a traumatic and devastating experience for anyone. Learning that your loved one’s death was caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless actions can make an already difficult situation even more painful.
Not only are you contending with an unexpected personal tragedy, but you may also be facing serious financial troubles as you struggle to cover past medical bills, funeral expenses, and future costs of daily living without your loved one’s support.
You might be familiar with the term “wrongful death” but may feel uncertain whether a wrongful death claim is appropriate in your family’s situation. Before you consider legal action on behalf of your loved one through a wrongful death lawsuit, it’s crucial to understand wrongful death laws in Decatur and how they may apply to your circumstances.
At Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., our dedicated trial lawyers have a wide range of experience handling wrongful death cases in Decatur and throughout surrounding areas of Alabama. We understand the shock and distress that families experience when a loved one is taken too soon. We are passionate about helping the survivors seek the compensation and justice they deserve.
To find out more about how our compassionate Decatur wrongful death lawyers can help you, call us anytime, 24/7 for your free, confidential case review. We understand that your family might be reluctant to get legal help in the wake of a death. However, many of our clients have found a sense of peace and comfort from seeking justice on behalf of their deceased loved one.
Wrongful Death Claims in Decatur
In Decatur and elsewhere in Alabama, wrongful death claims are handled in civil, rather than criminal, courts. In a successful wrongful death claim, certain surviving family members will receive the proceeds of a wrongful death claim for the negligent or wanton taking of a life.
These individuals may or may not also face criminal charges. Such charges would be filed separately from a civil wrongful death lawsuit and do not affect its outcome. The criminal and civil cases are completely separate matters.
Typically, wrongful death lawsuits may be filed in Alabama only if the deceased party would have been eligible to seek compensation for their injuries had they survived the incident. It’s also important to note that any damages awarded in a wrongful death claim are not considered part of the decedent’s estate. The money received for a wrongful death claim is instead distributed according to state intestacy laws, which define who is entitled to inherit if a person dies “intestate,” or without a valid will.
If you’re considering a wrongful death claim for a deceased family member such as a spouse, parent, or child, you should also keep in mind Alabama’s statute of limitations, or official time limits to pursue certain kinds of legal action. The statute of limitations for most wrongful death lawsuits in Alabama is two years. This means you have two years from the date of your relative’s death to file. If you fail to observe this deadline, the court will refuse to hear your case. Only very narrow and rare exceptions could extend the deadline.
Wrongful Death Damages in Decatur, AL
Damages are the monetary compensation that surviving family members are eligible to claim in a wrongful death case. In most civil cases, the amount of compensation depends heavily on the nature of the accident, the at-fault party’s actions, and the losses suffered by victims and families. While most states in the U.S. allow survivors to pursue compensatory damages, which cover real costs and non-economic losses suffered by the injured party and their loved ones, Alabama handles wrongful death damages differently.
In Alabama, plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits are only allowed to recover punitive damages, which in this type of case are money damages for the wrongful taking of a life. Punitive damages are awarded to punish wrongdoers and discourage others from similar wrongdoing in the future. Basically, instead of focusing on the losses of injured parties, Alabama’s wrongful death laws concentrate almost entirely on the actions of wrongdoers.
Damages awarded in a wrongful death case go directly to the decedent’s heirs and are not a part of the deceased’s estate. To determine the value of damages, juries may only consider the severity of the wrongdoer’s actions and the necessity of punishing them as a deterrent. A jury may not consider the value of the decedent’s life or their surviving relatives’ need to establish the value of a claim.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Under Alabama Law?
Generally speaking, a wrongful death lawsuit is a select type of personal injury lawsuit where the injured party is no longer present to recover damages on their own behalf. Under Alabama law, only a deceased person’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim against another party. Any damages paid by a responsible party must be paid directly to the estate and then distributed among eligible heirs.
The Code of Alabama allows claimants to file wrongful death claims in civil court whether or not the defendant is being charged with criminal wrongdoing as well. However, unlike criminal cases, which may punish defendants with prison sentences or other penalties, liability in civil cases like wrongful death suits is expressed solely in terms of monetary compensation.
It’s important to note that the burden of proof in a civil wrongful death case is significantly lower than the burden of proof in a criminal case.
Who Can Bring a Decatur Wrongful Death Claim?
Though family members and other legal heirs are the only individuals who are eligible to benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit, these individuals are not necessarily the ones who will file any claims. In Alabama, only a personal representative of the estate of the deceased is legally entitled to bring a wrongful death lawsuit for a deceased adult. This is because the estate pursues a wrongful death lawsuit, not an individual or family. When a death involves a minor child, parents may bring a wrongful death claim against the responsible party.
A personal representative is usually the executor of a will, nominated by the deceased in their will as the individual who will manage their estate and distribute any assets they held. If an individual dies without a valid will or without naming an executor, the court may decide who may serve as a personal representative of the estate.
If no one is nominated, the following individuals are eligible to serve as personal representatives under Alabama law, in order from first to last priority:
- Surviving spouse of the decedent
- Next of kin, such as children or parents
- Other blood relatives, if no spouse, children, or parents survive the decedent
- The largest Alabama-based creditor of the estate
- Any individual appointed by a probate judge
- Local county administrators or others who file a petition with the court
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
Like other personal injury cases, every wrongful death incident is different. The wrongful death lawyers of Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., have the resources to handle even the most complex wrongful death cases, including those that involve:
- Distracted driving accidents
- Drunk driving accidents
- Reckless driving accidents
- Commercial truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Construction accidents
- Dangerous product accidents
- Unsafe premises accidents
- Slip and fall injuries
- Dog or animal bite injuries
- Medical or hospital malpractice
- Pharmaceutical errors
- Unsafe products or drugs
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Work-related incidents
- Injuries resulting from criminal acts
Get Help from a Wrongful Death Attorney in Decatur
Wrongful death lawsuits in Alabama are frequently complicated, so it’s likely in your best interest to consult with an experienced attorney before you make any big decisions. At Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., our Decatur wrongful death lawyers can help you understand the merits of your claim and determine the best possible next steps.
We can also assist you with:
- Interpreting the laws and restrictions that apply to your claim
- Determining who may act as the personal representative of an estate
- Estimating the potential value of your claim
- Communicating with the other party or their insurance company on your behalf
- Identifying and collecting strong supporting evidence for your claim
- Consulting with expert witnesses like accident reconstruction specialists
- Filing paperwork in court and observing important legal deadlines
- Negotiating for a fair settlement or arguing your case in court
If someone close to you was fatally injured by the negligence or wrongful actions of someone else, you deserve a fair outcome and the chance to recover from your grief without financial anxiety. The Decatur wrongful death lawyers of Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., are here to give you that chance.
We have worked with many Alabama families just like yours to recover rightful compensation. While we know that no amount of money or legal action could ever bring back your loved one, we also realize that you and your family deserve a measure of justice and closure.
When you call us for your free consultation, you’ll meet with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of our team to discuss your case. Your trust and peace of mind are important to us, so we are committed to providing straightforward and honest assessments of every case we review.