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If your loved one has tragically died, you might be wondering, What qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit? A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil suit brought against a negligent person or entity whose actions caused someone to die. Wrongful death lawsuits may also be brought in cases of intentional violence that kills someone. This is the case even if that person is also facing criminal prosecution.

Wrongful death lawsuits can be thought of as being similar to personal injury claims, except that the person who was injured and died obviously can’t bring the claim. So the claim is brought on the deceased person’s behalf.  Some examples of when a wrongful death lawsuit might be filed include when someone dies …

  • In a car vs. pedestrian accident that was caused by a negligent driver
  • When a defective product malfunctions and causes fatal injuries
  • In cases of medical malpractice where a doctor’s negligence causes death
  • When someone is intentionally assaulted and dies from injuries.

Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against individuals, against doctors and other medical professionals, against companies that develop and manufacture products and against government agencies. It is always a good idea for people wondering whether their case qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit to get the help of an attorney who is experienced in handling wrongful death and personal injury cases. A wrongful death attorney will look at the unique facts of your case to discover whether negligence or a wrongful act, such as an act of violence, occurred. If so, and if it can be proven, you might be successful in a legal claim. 

How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death is not always easy to prove. When negligence causes the accident or incident that led to the death, it must be shown that…

  • The at-fault party had a duty of care toward the deceased person. For example, a driver has a duty of care to drive safely and obey traffic laws.
  • The person breached the duty of care. For example, the driver ran a red light.
  • There was a direct connection between breaching the duty of care and the death. When the driver ran the red light they caused an accident that led directly to the person’s injuries and death.

This is a very basic answer to the question of how do you prove wrongful death. There are many complexities involved in proving it, depending upon the individual circumstances of each case. A wrongful death attorney will look at the factors in your unique case and take the steps necessary based on the evidence to prove negligence.

Who Gets the Money In a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In Alabama, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed only by personal representatives of decedents. But personal representatives don’t receive the money from a lawsuit, unless the personal representative is also an eligible heir of the deceased. Compensation received in wrongful death claims does not go into the deceased person’s estate. Instead, it passes directly to heirs through “intestate succession.” Intestate succession is the legal process through which assets are distributed when someone dies without a will. This process is also used in wrongful death cases in Alabama, whether or not there was a will.

In intestate succession, spouses and children of decedents typically would receive any compensation awarded in wrongful death cases. When the person does not have a spouse or children, the settlement would pass to the next closest relative. Parents would typically be next in line and then siblings.

How Much Money Is Awarded in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

How much money is awarded in a successful wrongful death lawsuit depends on the facts of the case. This includes the degree to which the at-fault party was negligent or acted wrongfully. Unlike in most other states, Alabama awards damages to punish at-fault parties, rather than to compensate survivors. These punitive damages are meant to both punish negligent behavior and deter future bad behavior. How egregious the negligent or intentional act was will usually determine how high the compensation amount might be. Compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit could be in the tens of thousands or in the millions. It all depends on the circumstances of each case.

Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Always Go to Trial?

Wrongful death claims are often settled with insurance companies through negotiations, instead of in court. Your attorney will work hard to get the largest settlement amount possible. But if the insurance company doesn’t make a fair settlement offer or won’t negotiate at all, then your case will most likely go to court to be decided by a jury. Often jury awards are larger than what might be given in a settlement, but trials often take longer than insurance settlements, and jury awards are not guaranteed.  

How Long After a Wrongful Death Can a Claim Be Filed?

Alabama has a statute of limitations, or time limit, of two years for filing wrongful death claims. The clock begins running on the date the person died. There are exceptions to this deadline, so you should always speak directly with an attorney if you believe you have a wrongful death case. For example, if the claim is against a government entity, such as a city or county, the statute may be shorter. Don’t hesitate to speak with an attorney right away if you believe you have a wrongful death claim. Many law offices offer free consultations in wrongful death cases.  

Get Help from Our Compassionate Wrongful Death Attorneys

The wrongful death attorneys at Caldwell Wenzel & Asthana are passionate about bringing justice to survivors when someone dies from negligence or an intentional act. Whether you are a family member or a personal representative of the deceased, or both, we will work compassionately to answer your questions and address your concerns. And we will work aggressively to prove the other party was negligent in causing the death.

We provide free consultations in wrongful death cases, as well as a no-fee guarantee. This guarantee means you will not be charged anything unless we win your case. Call us today at (251) 444-7000 for a complimentary consultation.

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