If you recently lost a loved one in an accident, you may not be entirely sure of what to do. The Birmingham wrongful death lawyers at Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C., are here to help. We will listen to your story, answer your questions, and address each of your concerns. We are here to explain Alabama's wrongful death law and determine whether or not you and your family have a valid legal claim. If it appears you do, we can discuss next steps.
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Wrongful death claims are a unique type of lawsuit that are defined in the Alabama Code §6-5-410. When an individual’s death is caused by another person or business, and the deceased individual could have sued had they only been hurt and lived, then a wrongful death claim may arise from the situation.
If you recently lost a loved one and you believe another person was responsible, whether that person is responsible for themselves or was working for a business at the time, you need to speak with an attorney. An experienced Birmingham wrongful death lawyer will carefully review your situation to determine if there is a valid wrongful death claim.
This type of legal claim can be based on the at-fault party’s wrongful act, failure to act, omission, or negligence. It can arise whether the responsible party was careless or acted will ill intent.
Wrongful death claims can arise out of any situation in which one person causes another individual’s death due to negligence or intentional misconduct. However, these legal claims are commonly filed after:
A wrongful death suit is a civil claim and is not dependent on any criminal matter. While a criminal case could be relevant to the wrongful death suit, it is not necessary. You can pursue a wrongful death claim without the at-fault party being charged with a crime or even if the at-fault party was found innocent of a related charge.
When there is evidence that another party is at-fault for your loved one’s death, the personal representative of your relative’s estate may file the wrongful death claim. Family members are not entitled to file wrongful death lawsuits. While a personal representative may be a relative of the decedent, they will file the claim in their official capacity with the estate, not as a loved one.
A wrongful death suit must be filed within two years of your loved one’s passing. However, it is best to speak with a Birmingham wrongful death attorney about this option as soon as possible. It takes time to investigate a potential wrongful death claim, and waiting months or over a year to speak with an attorney could cause issues for you and your family. Waiting too long could also lead to important evidence being lost and people’s memories of the event deteriorating.
You may feel strongly that you have a valid wrongful death claim. However, proving a wrongful death claim can be challenging. The person most impacted by this situation is gone. Your loved one cannot testify as to what happened. Instead, you must rely on other evidence, such as:
Additionally, what you must prove differs depending on the basis of your claim. If your wrongful death claim relies on allegations of negligence, you must establish:
If your wrongful death case is based on the at-fault party’s wrongful act or omission, then the elements of your case and how your attorney uses the evidence may be different. For instance, in a negligence case, you may focus on how the responsible party was careless. Your claim may also rely on the other person acting knowingly, and with the intent to do your loved one harm.
No matter the underlying claims in your wrongful death suit, you must establish the necessary elements by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This legal standard is not as high as “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is used in criminal cases. This is why the responsible party may not be charged with or found guilty of a crime, yet could still be civilly liable for your loved one’s death.
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Alabama’s wrongful death law entitles the personal representative of your loved one’s estate to pursue punitive damages. This is different than most other states. In a majority of jurisdictions, wrongful death claims allow for compensatory damages, which encompass a decedent’s medical expenses, funeral costs, and the survivor’s mental anguish, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, and more. Punitive damages are different. Instead of compensating you and your family members for your financial and emotional injuries, punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer.
What does this mean for you? Wrongful death cases in Alabama require the knowledge and experience of a Birmingham wrongful death attorney. By working with a lawyer who has handled these types of situations before, you have someone who knows the value of your claim. You have someone who can advise you on the potential amount of punitive damages your family could receive.
Whatever financial recovery the personal representative obtains through a wrongful death claim is not subject to the estate’s debts. Your loved one’s creditors cannot make a claim against that money. The settlement or jury award will be distributed to your loved one’s heirs based on Alabama’s statute of distributions, which are the same as how a person’s estate would be distributed if they passed away without a will.
If you are the decedent’s surviving spouse, parent, child, or sibling, you should speak with an attorney regarding how a wrongful death recovery will be divided.
In relation to wrongful death claims, you may hear people discuss survival actions. This type of legal claim is different and independent from a wrongful death suit, and is outlined in Alabama Code §6-5-462.
A wrongful death suit focuses on the harm done to surviving family members. A survival action is about the harm done to the decedent. It is about the legal claim the decedent would have been able to pursue had they lived.
In some cases, the legal claim is already filed and may continue after your loved one’s death. The personal representative takes over the case. In other situations, a claim survives even when the decedent did not have the chance to file. The personal representative may file the claim on behalf of the decedent and pursue most of the damages the decedent would have been able to ask for.
However, not all legal claims survive. A personal injury claim that was not filed before your loved one passed away cannot be started after their death. A personal representative can only continue a personal injury claim that was filed between the dates of your loved one’s accident and their passing.
If you are unsure of whether you can file a survival action as well as a wrongful death suit, or your loved one had already filed a personal injury claim, call our Birmingham wrongful death lawyers immediately. If a personal injury claim was started, we can help. If a claim was not already filed, then we will determine if any claim survived and can be filed now.
If you believe someone caused your loved one’s death and should be held responsible, call Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C. today. It can be difficult to determine if you have a valid wrongful death claim. We will utilize our legal knowledge and years of experience to objectively assess your family’s situation. Once we have enough facts, we can advise you on whether or not you have a wrongful death claim or survival action, and if you do, how likely you are to succeed in court or obtain an insurance settlement. We will also discuss punitive damages with you and the potential value of your claim.
Contact us today at 205-933-1500 to schedule your free, initial consultation. After the death of a loved one, you’ll want Birmingham wrongful death attorneys to fight for justice on your behalf. For a free consultation with our lawyers in Birmingham at Belt, Bruner, & Barnett P.C., call today. We have additional offices in Montgomery, Mobile, and Huntsville to best serve you at a location most convenient to you.