After losing a loved one in a tragic accident in Montgomery County, you may face several challenging questions. Was someone else responsible for the accident? Was that person negligent? Should your family move forward with a wrongful death claim?
Deciding to pursue a wrongful death claim can be difficult. At Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C., our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers understand this type of legal claim cannot bring your loved one back and may not make you feel better. However, it can give your family a sense of justice and the compensation necessary to cover the medical expenses and loss of income.
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While certain actions can lead to criminal charges, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter. If another person’s conduct was unlawful, the police will investigate, and prosecutors will determine if there is probable cause that a homicide occurred.
However, whether or not charges are filed or a conviction is obtained, a wrongful death action can occur and lead to compensation for the decedent’s family. Many wrongful death claims arise due to another person’s negligent conduct, which may make them liable for punitive damages without making them a criminal.
Many states allow certain close relatives to file wrongful death lawsuits. However, under Section 6-5-410 of the Alabama Code, only the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may file a wrongful death case. This means whoever is named as the executor of the person’s estate in their will, or whoever is assigned by the court to account for and distribute the estate, is the individual responsible for deciding whether a wrongful death claim moves forward.
If you are the personal representative of your loved one’s estate, our Montgomery wrongful death lawyers can guide you through the wrongful death claim process. If you lost your spouse, parent, or child and are not the estate representative, contact us to learn more about your rights and options.
All types of legal claims have time limits known as statutes of limitation. Alabama’s statute of limitation for a wrongful death claim is two years. This means the personal representative of your loved one’s estate has up to two years after the decedent’s death to file the action in a court with jurisdiction over the case.
A few elements of a wrongful death claim must be proven to establish the other party’s negligence. If you and your family decide to move forward with a wrongful death claim, you must provide evidence of:
Your wrongful death claim will require several types of direct and circumstantial evidence to prove the other party’s wrongful act, omission, or negligence, such as:
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Many states allow you to pursue compensatory damages after the death of your parent, spouse, or child. However, Alabama does things differently. Instead of asking for compensation for your financial and emotional losses, you pursue punitive damages through a wrongful death claim. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and prevent them from behaving similarly in the future.
When a successful wrongful death claim results in punitive damages through a settlement or jury award, the compensation is distributed to the decedent’s heirs based on Alabama law.
This is important in two ways. Alabama law defines who counts as the decedent’s heirs. Not every family member will be an heir. In most cases, the law first looks for a surviving spouse, parents, or children. Second, Alabama law dictates the distribution of compensation to these heirs. The state’s intestate succession laws determine the proportion of each person’s compensation. These are the rules used to divide a person’s estate when they pass away without a will.
It is also important to understand that this method of distributing wrongful death damages is true even if your loved one left behind a will that distributed their estate differently.
Our experienced, knowledgeable, and trusted Montgomery wrongful death lawyers at Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C. know all of the common questions that arise after losing a loved one. We want to answer these questions so that you understand your rights and legal options per Alabama’s wrongful death law.
In an initial consultation, we can listen to what happened and guide you through the next best steps. We may need to conduct a thorough investigation before we can recommend filing a wrongful death claim against another individual or business. When we are confident about your options, we will provide you with all the information you need to make the right decision for you and your family.