The death of a loved one is a tragic experience for any family. But feelings of sadness and grief may be accompanied by anger after you discover that someone’s negligence or recklessness caused your loved one’s death. In Alabama, you could be able to hold those at fault for your loved one’s passing accountable through a wrongful death claim.
When you don’t know where to go for legal help, turn to Stokes Stemle, LLC. Our Dothan wrongful death attorneys understand the difficulties that losing a beloved relative can place on those left behind. Let our team handle all the details of your case so you and your family can focus on grieving.
The sudden loss of a family member is emotionally devastating but can also create financial hardships that wouldn’t exist if the accident never happened. A wrongful death lawyer from Stokes Stemle, LLC in Dothan, AL will aggressively pursue full and fair compensation on your behalf. Although no amount of money can bring your loved one back, we’ll work to hold the responsible party liable to provide you with some measure of justice.
Call or contact us today for a free consultation with a compassionate wrongful death lawyer in Dothan, AL. Let us help you through this impossible time.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a civil claim that the family and representatives of a deceased individual bring when the person’s death results from the negligence, recklessness, or willful acts of someone else.
A wrongful death claim essentially replaces the personal injury claim that the decedent could have filed if they had survived their injury. Wrongful death claims often arise from the same types of accidents that lead to personal injury claims, such as auto accidents, medical malpractice, and defective product cases.
A wrongful death case is not the same as a criminal one. A wrongful death claim does not require that any crime be committed to proceed. In a criminal case, the responsible party may be sentenced to prison and pay fines. In a wrongful death claim, the decedent’s heirs receive financial compensation from the party at fault for the loss.
Another difference is that with criminal cases, the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death claim, you and your wrongful death attorney need only prove that it is more likely than not that the at-fault party’s actions or omissions caused your loved one’s death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Under Alabama law, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the personal representative of the decedent. Typically, the personal representative refers to the administrator or executor of the decedent’s estate.
For most estates, a family member is usually appointed by the court to serve as administrator or executor. If the decedent had a will, the will typically nominates a person to serve as executor of the estate.
If the decedent had no will or the will did not nominate an executor, the decedent’s surviving spouse or heirs under Alabama law may petition to be appointed as administrator of the estate. If no spouse or heir petitions for appointment within 40 days, any person may petition for appointment as administrator.
However, if the decedent was a minor at the time of their death, a wrongful death claim may be filed by the decedent’s parent or parents. If they decline to file a claim or fail to do so within six months of the decedent’s passing, the right to file falls to the decedent’s personal representative.
How Long Does It Take to Settle a Wrongful Death Claim in Dothan?
A wrongful death claim may take as little as a few months to settle or several years to wind its way through the courts.
Many factors can influence how long it takes to settle a wrongful death claim, including:
- The complexity of the case
- Whether the at-fault party(s) deny responsibility for the death
- What financial resources are available for compensation
The case begins with investigating the circumstances of your loved one’s death. You’ll need strong evidence to support a wrongful death claim. Depending on whether your wrongful death lawyer needs to consult with experts and witnesses to build your case, the investigation can take weeks or months.
Settlement negotiations will take the most amount of time. If the at-fault party accepts their liability for the decedent’s passing, you may be able to settle fairly quickly. However, if the at-fault party initially disputes the claim, negotiations may be dragged out. This is because the decedent’s representative and their attorney will need to recover evidence and build a persuasive case to prove the at-fault party’s legal responsibility for the death.
Negotiations can also take longer if the parties disagree over the amount of compensation. If the at-fault party has limited financial resources to pay compensation in a wrongful death claim, that can complicate settlement negotiations.
In addition, under Alabama’s statute of limitations, a wrongful death claim typically must be brought within two years of the decedent’s passing. If your family’s claim cannot be settled before the statute of limitations expires, a lawsuit will have to be filed to preserve your claim.
The litigation process in court can take a considerable amount of time, depending on the complexity of the case and the schedule and availability of the trial court. Even after a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, parties can still settle the claim up to and even during trial. This is one of the biggest reasons to hire a wrongful death attorney, to handle all the litigation for you.
What Compensation Is Available in a Dothan Wrongful Death Case?
Under Alabama law, only punitive damages may be recovered in a wrongful death claim. Unlike other states, Alabama wrongful death laws do not allow claimants to recover compensation for medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, pain and suffering, and lost income. Instead, the at-fault party will pay punitive damages to the heirs of the estate.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the party responsible for the decedent’s passing and deter others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Although Alabama law imposes a statutory cap on punitive damages for most cases, there is no limit on the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a wrongful death claim.
However, because wrongful death claims do not compensate the family of a decedent for specific losses, recovering compensation in a wrongful death claim often requires skilled legal advocacy to establish the wrongful nature of the at-fault party’s actions.
Let’s say a decedent and their family suffered millions of dollars in expenses and future losses after being killed in an accident involving a defective product. If the product’s manufacturer did not act with any negligence in designing or fabricating the product. In that case, it can prove harder to argue that the manufacturer should be “punished” with a large award of punitive damages.
Although a wrongful death claim is pursued by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, compensation recovered in a wrongful death claim is not received by the decedent’s estate but instead is paid directly to the decedent’s heirs as identified under Alabama intestacy law.
As a result, the compensation recovered in a wrongful death action cannot be used to pay the decedent’s estate’s expenses. Even if a decedent’s will leaves their entire estate to one person, that person can only recover from the award from a wrongful death claim if they qualify as an heir under state law.
Contact the Wrongful Death Lawyers at Stokes Stemle, LLC in Dothan, AL Today
If you and your family have lost a loved one due to the negligent or reckless acts of another party or parties, call or contact the wrongful death attorneys at Stokes Stemle, LLC in Dothan for a free case evaluation. We will review your case’s details and explain the steps we would take to build a persuasive case on your behalf.
When you work with our legal team, you will know you’re not alone. We’ll be there to answer your questions, address your concerns, and handle the details of your claim so you and your family can focus on healing. We’re here for you whenever you need us. Call us today or contact us online to get started.