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The death of a loved one is always tragic, but it often seems more unfair if the death resulted from someone else’s actions or negligence. If you believe someone else is at fault in the death of your sibling, you may have a legal case. If you wonder, can siblings sue for wrongful death? Yes, but only under specific conditions. Read on to learn more about those conditions and how they are specific to Alabama.
Wrongful death lawsuits are in the same legal category as medical malpractice suits and car accidents. In fact, the cause of the wrongful death may be a medical error, car accident, a big truck accident, or even a deliberate act, such as battery. The person liable to pay in a wrongful death lawsuit is the person who had the duty to be careful yet committed an action (or inaction) that caused the death of someone else. Because the person who is the victim in the case can no longer act on his own behalf, someone else must file a lawsuit in order to receive compensation for the injuries. In most states (excluding Alabama), the person who files the civil suit must be a close relative, including siblings. In Alabama, a wrongful death may be
Alabama is unusual in that state law strictly limits who may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Under Alabama Code Title 6 § 6-5-410, only the personal representative of the estate may initiate the action. “Initiating the action” is just a legal way of saying “filing a claim.” The personal representative, or executor, is the person designated in the will who is charged with paying any outstanding bills and distributing assets. Naming your executor is one of the most important actions you will take when you file your will in Alabama, because that person will protect your property, pay taxes, and perform other vital tasks necessary for preparing your estate. You can name anyone you trust who is at least 19, is of sound mind, and has never been convicted of “an infamous crime.”
Because Alabama requires that only the executor may file a wrongful death suit, a sibling cannot file the lawsuit unless he or she is named as the person who is the representative of the estate. While most other states will allow siblings to file, siblings may file the suit in Alabama only if they have been named as executors in the will.
There is one exception in Alabama law for minors. When the person who died was a minor, the parents are allowed to file a wrongful death suit. However, the parents must file within 6 months, and if they do not, only the personal representative will be allowed to file after that time has elapsed.
Most states allow compensatory damages, or damages to compensate the victim for actual expenses that need to be paid. Alabama state law is unusual in that you are only allowed to sue for punitive damages in a wrongful death suit. Here is the basic difference between compensatory and punitive damages:
These are the damages for expenses where you can show receipts. For instance, if there were medical bills caused by the original injury, you can ask for those. Because the person who died can no longer work, you can show how much income was lost. In places that allow for compensatory damages, you can also ask for funeral expenses and other damages directly related to the death.
Think of punitive damages as more like a punishment. Sometimes called “exemplary damages,” punitive damages are usually against a larger entity, like a company or hospital. With punitive damages, you are making an example of someone who was particularly careless or who perhaps committed a crime that harmed someone else. You cannot show a receipt for this kind of damages, and the awards are often larger than those for compensatory damages.
Alabama law uses the damages from a wrongful death lawsuit to punish those who caused the death and to add a deterrence factor. There is also no limit on how much the jury can decide to award anyone who wins a wrongful death suit.
Obviously, even if you recover the damages you feel are deserved in a wrongful death lawsuit, you cannot bring back your sibling. However, you may be able to make others think twice before committing those kinds of acts that caused your tragedy. Sometimes you may even find that your loss inspires comprehensive change when you call attention to the circumstances of your case. For instance, the city may put up a stop sign in a badly needed location, or a company may tighten rules to protect its workers.
Our compassionate attorneys understand how difficult it is to go through the loss of your sibling, especially when you believe there may be someone to blame. If you think your loved one was a victim of wrongful death, we are happy to speak with you and discuss your options. There is a time limit of two years for filing a wrongful death case, and the longer you wait, the less evidence will be available for trial. Witnesses forget what they saw or heard; businesses erase camera footage; and other physical evidence disappears or wears away quickly. We can help you start preserving that evidence as soon as we take your case. If you want to discuss a possible wrongful death case involving your sibling, call our attorneys at (251) 444-7000 today.