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Wrongful death lawsuits and the statute of limitations

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2021 | Personal Injuries |

It is nothing less than a tragedy when someone becomes the ultimate victim of another’s negligence. A life is lost and surviving family members are left to pick up the pieces of their lives as best they can. Grief can be overwhelming and making decisions can be nearly impossible. But decisions must be made and it’s important for the family to understand the factors affecting their decision.

What is the statute of limitations?

Wrongful death lawsuits arise when one person commits a wrongful or negligent act which causes the death of another. When this happens, the law creates a right to sue the party who committed the wrong, on behalf of the deceased. However, this right is not endless. The statute of limitations is a time limit placed upon the lawsuit. Alabama Code Section 6-5-410 sets that time limit at two years, generally counted from the date of the accident which caused the death. If the wrongful death lawsuit is not filed within those two years, the right to sue is lost forever.

There are exceptions to the standard two-year rule – when a government entity is responsible, the timeframe can be shortened dramatically and you may have to file a claim first with the entity itself. Generally, the timeframe for claims against counties is one year and, for those against cities, it can be as little as six months.

It’s also important to note that, unlike other states, Alabama does not give the right to sue directly to the surviving family of the deceased. Instead, only the personal representative of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The personal representative is the individual named by a probate court to manage the deceased’s estate. While the individual can be a member of the deceased’s family, they must first be designated as the personal representative before they can bring the suit.