Filing Wrongful Death Claims
When you lose a loved one in an accident, you probably have too many questions to articulate. On top of your grief, you may have a multitude of questions about administering a will, intestate succession, and criminal charges for those who caused the accident.
You may have heard about wrongful death claims and be considering whether that option is available to you. Contact the Alabama wrongful death attorneys with Belt & Bruner, P.C. at 205-933-1500 to find out what they can do to help you navigate the complicated legal system after the death of a loved one.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim holds a person or organization responsible for another person’s death. Such a claim asserts that the defendant’s negligent, omission of, or reckless actions caused the victim’s death, and because of this, they should be punished. This is a civil action that doesn’t depend on whether the other party has been charged or found guilty of any crime.
If you’re wondering if you are able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, you should ask whether the victim would have been able to sue the other person or business had he or she lived. Would the decedent have had a personal injury claim against them? If yes, then you may have the right to bring a wrongful death action.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?
Alabama law requires that the personal representative of a decedent’s estate file a wrongful death claim in court. The personal representative, also called the administrator or executor of the estate, may be designated in a will or appointed by the court. A family member has 40 days to petition to be the administrator of the estate after the victim’s death. Following that period of time, the court can appoint someone other than a family member to the position.
Most states allow family members or the victim’s estate to recover compensatory damages in a wrongful death claim. These damages are meant to reimburse the family or estate for costs associated with the victim’s death, such as medical costs and funeral expenses. Alabama is different.
Typically only punitive damages are allowed in Alabama wrongful death claims. These are not necessarily meant to compensate the estate or family, but instead are meant to punish the defendant for their negligent or reckless actions.
Juries are asked to award an amount that is proportionate to the defendant’s wrongful actions. The jury does not solely consider the value of the decedent’s life or the costs the family incurred due to the accident and death because these are both compensatory. However, those who inherit damages from the wrongful death claim may use the money to cover costs associated with the death or for any other purpose.
How Damages Are Distributed
When the victim’s family wins damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, the recovery isn’t subject to the debts and liabilities of the estate or to state or federal taxes. Instead, the damages are distributed to the decedent’s heirs based on Alabama’s intestate laws – the same laws that distribute the estate if the victim died without a will. The recovery is distributed this way even if the decedent had a will.
Distribution of wrongful death damages through the Alabama statute of distributions can be complicated if a person has many heirs. The Alabama wrongful death lawyers at Belt & Bruner, P.C. can not only help you file a wrongful death claim, but also understand how damages should be distributed among family members.
It’s important to note that the personal representative doesn’t always receive damages. Very often the personal representative is a family member who is an heir under the law, but not always. If the personal representative isn’t a family member, the person who must file and carry through with the lawsuit might not recover any portion of the damages because they aren’t an heir under the law.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
The wrongful death attorneys at Belt & Bruner, P.C. understand how difficult of a situation you may be experiencing. On top of mourning your friend or family member, you must continue to work, take care of your family, and navigate the legal system.
You probably have questions, and the lawyers at Belt & Bruner, P.C. want to answer them. They want you to fully understand your legal options after losing someone. If a wrongful death claim is right for you, they will aggressively advocate for you through negotiations or in court, if necessary. Call Belt & Bruner today to speak to any one of our wrongful death lawyers in Birmingham, wrongful death lawyers in Huntsville, wrongful death lawyers in Mobile, or our wrongful death lawyers in Montgomery to best understand how to file a wrongful death lawsuit.