Losing a loved one in a tragic motor vehicle accident is an experience that no one can be truly prepared to experience. The sudden loss of a spouse, child, or parent makes it difficult to focus on the many emotional and financial challenges that lie ahead, especially if the deceased was the primary wage earner.
An accident that was due to the negligence of another driver makes it harder to take in, knowing that it may have been preventable. Finding closure can seem elusive without taking action to set things right.
While every state has varying laws concerning what the family can claim in a wrongful death lawsuit, in Alabama the plaintiff can recover both economic and noneconomic damages, including loss of income, financial support, as well as emotional pain and suffering.
Elements required to prove negligence in a wrongful death claim
Unlike in a criminal proceeding, where the plaintiff must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a wrongful death claim goes through civil court, where only a preponderance of the evidence is required to prove culpability. In Alabama, the action would seek to recover financial damages for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence by the defendant causing the death of another.
The court will determine the monetary award to the injured party based on a judgement of the degree of culpability of the negligent party. For a wrongful death claim to be successful, it must have the following elements:
- The death of a person
- Negligence or intent to harm as the cause
- Financial injury to the family as a result
The role of the personal representative
In Alabama, it is the personal representative (PR) of the estate of the deceased, not the family, who commences a wrongful death suit. The award for damages follows Alabama intestacy laws, whether or not the deceased had a will, and distributions go to surviving family members. If no PR is named in the will, an Alabama probate court will appoint one.
In some cases, it may be possible for the family to recover punitive damages as well. This may occur when the plaintiff proves malicious intent on the part of the defendant, which may also act as a deterrent to others who might behave in a similar manner. While a settlement can never bring a loved one back, it can provide closure to the family and financial security moving forward.