Losing a loved one is always devastating, but when your family member passes away due to the negligence or reckless conduct of someone else, it is especially tragic. If your loved one died as the result of another party’s bad actions, the attorneys at Taylor Martino, PC can help. Call us today to learn more and discuss the first steps you should take.
There is nothing more shocking than losing a loved on in a fatal accident. Whether it happens at work, as the result of a serious car accident, or from a defective product or any other accident type, learning that your loved one has suffered a fatal injury can be extremely trying to deal with.
At the law offices of Taylor Martino, P.C., our experienced Alabama wrongful death attorneys understand that when you are mourning the loss of loved one, filing a civil action for damages may not be at the top of your priority list. We understand, and want to reassure you that our attorneys are here to patiently and compassionately help you and your family understand your options and right to damages.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a type of civil action that is filed after the wrongful or neglectful actions of one party lead to the death of another. A wrongful death action is permissible in situations where the decedent would have had a personal injury claim had the injury not resulted in death. These types of claims are typically filed on the behalf of the surviving spouse or immediate family member of a person who was killed in an unpredictable and tragic accident type, and can be used to seek punitive damages.
A wrongful death claim may be pursued when any type of accident results in the death of another. This includes, but is not limited to:
Incidents of medical malpractice;
Nursing home abuse and neglect;
Motor vehicle accidents;
Defective product or pharmaceutical incidents;
Slip and fall cases;
Truck accidents; and
Elements of a Wrongful Death Suit
In order for a wrongful death suit to be successful, a plaintiff must prove certain elements (the same elements that are necessary to establish in a standard negligence-based personal injury claim). These elements are:
Duty of care. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant in the action owed the decedent a duty of care. In many cases, this duty of care is implied.
Breach of duty of care. Once duty of care is established, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant breached the duty of care. For example, if a product manufacturer released a product with a dangerous defect, this is a breach of the duty of care owed to a consumer.
Causation. It is not just enough to prove that the defendant breached the duty of care owed to a plaintiff; causation must also be established. Causation means that the decedent’s injuries would not have been established but for the defendant’s actions.
Another, very unique, aspect of Alabama wrongful death cases is that a plaintiff must prove that the breach of duty of care/action of the defendant was intentional and wanton. This will be discussed more in the section on damages recoverable.
Who Can Bring Forth a Wrongful Death Suit?
While a surviving family member in Alabama cannot file a wrongful death claim directly, they can recover damages via the deceased person’s estate. In other words, it is the estate–and therefore the legal representative of the decedent’s estate–that will bring forth a wrongful death claim for damages. All damages recovered as a result of the suit will be paid to the estate, which will then be distributed to beneficiaries (spouse, children, etc.) accordingly.
Wrongful death cases in Alabama differ from wrongful death cases in every single other state in the nation in one big way: in Alabama, a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim is not allowed to seek compensatory damages, which means that damages for medical expenses prior to death, funeral and burial expenses, the value of the deceased’s lost wages, etc., cannot be sought. Instead, the state only allows for punitive damages to be collected in a wrongful death case. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for wrongdoing and deter crime, not compensate victims. In order to recover punitive damages, a plaintiff will have to establish that the defendant “consciously or deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice with regard to the plaintiff” (Alabama Code Section 6-11-20).
However, while punitive damages are capped in the majority of personal injury cases in the state of Alabama at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, these limitations do not apply to wrongful death actions (Alabama Code Section 6-11-21(j)).
While a wrongful death claim may not compensate you directly for the specific losses that you have incurred, settlements and jury verdicts for punitive damages can be thousands of dollars, and depending upon the circumstances of your case, you may be able to recover a compensation award that is sufficient to provide you with the financial assistance and sense of justice you need.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death in Alabama
In the event that you do think that you have a wrongful death claim and are interested in bringing forth your case, you must be sure to do so within two years’ time. If you wait longer than two years, you will be permanently barred from recovering damages. The two-year clock begins ticking from the time of the decedent’s date of death.
Contact Our Alabama Wrongful Death Lawyers Today
Filing a wrongful death claim can be a hard thing to do, and if you have recently lost a loved one, you may be wondering whether or not filing a wrongful death action is the right decision, especially knowing that only punitive damages may be recoverable. At the law office of Taylor Martino, P.C, our experienced Alabama wrongful death lawyers will gladly review your case for free and provide you with sound legal advice about what would be in your best interests moving forward.
If you are looking for an attorney you can trust and who is sensitive to what you’re going through, our lawyers are here for you. Please contact our law firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can schedule a consultation at a time that works for you, including weekends and after-hours. Reach our team now at 251-433-3131.