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Alabama Wrongful Death Lawyer

Did you lose your loved one due to someone else's negligence? You need to know your legal rights to help you during this difficult time. Get a free consultation by speaking with one of our Alabama wrongful death lawyers today.

When someone’s actions cause a person’s death, it is sometimes known as a wrongful death. The behavior may have been reckless, negligent, or intentional, and it could be an individual, company, or some other entity that is responsible. What all wrongful deaths have in common is that the deceased person's heirs or family may be able to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for the death to seek compensation.

Because it is sudden and unexpected, a wrongful death is particularly traumatic for survivors. Many families simply do not have the emotional and financial resources to deal with the aftermath. Navigating the legal process of a wrongful death lawsuit is complex, so if you think you need to file suit, seek the guidance of an experienced Alabama wrongful death lawyer. The law firm of Cockrell, Cockrell, Ritchey & Ritchey has over three decades of experience serving the people of Alabama. Call us at 205-349-2009 for a free consultation to review your legal options.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a legal action that the heirs or surviving family members of the person who died can file due to someone else's negligence, wrongful act, or intentional harm. All wrongful death claims pursue compensation for the damages the loved ones of the deceased suffered due to their untimely death. Some examples of wrongful death cases include deaths caused by:

  • Car accidents

  • Truck accidents

  • Pedestrian accidents

  • Motorcycle accidents

  • Workplace accidents

  • Medical malpractice

  • Defective products

  • Foodborne illnesses

  • Criminal acts

To prove a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care to the deceased person, that they breached that duty, and that the breach caused the death. It is also necessary for them to have calculable damages. This is where the legal aid of a wrongful death attorney comes in.

What Are the Grounds for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

All wrongful death cases must have three main elements in common:

  1. The death of a person

  2. The defendant's negligence or wrongful act caused their death

  3. The surviving family members or beneficiaries suffered damages due to their untimely death

What is a Survival Action and How Does it Differ from a Wrongful Death Claim?

Survival actions should not be confused with wrongful death claims. A survival action is a cause of action or already filed legal claim that continues despite a party’s death. It may have started as a personal injury claim, but once the plaintiff in the case dies, it becomes a survival action. It is an action or cause of action that does not end because someone passes away. A wrongful death claim, to be clear, is a cause of action for the estate or family member’s loss – not the injured party. It is a claim that arises upon the individual’s death, not upon the date of their injury.

How Our Wrongful Death Attorneys in Alabama Can Help

It is difficult to deal with a loved one's untimely death, and pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit is a complex legal process. Emotional and financial effects from a wrongful death are often overwhelming. For example, if the deceased person was the main provider for the family, surviving family members may have little to no income. This is one reason why it might be necessary to seek the assistance of a wrongful death attorney. Filing a lawsuit can help recover compensation to help pay for the loss of income experienced after the death of a family member.

There are other expenses too, such as burial and funeral costs, which are often very expensive. If any investigative work needs done to prove the wrongful death, a lawyer can help you get that done without any upfront cost from you. Our firm has extensive resources to help build a solid wrongful death case, and you only pay when a final settlement or verdict is reached.

If you believe you have a potential wrongful death case, give our law firm a call. We may be able to help you with your legal claim.

Statistics on Wrongful Deaths

A wrongful death can occur due to a variety of causes. In the United States, one can look at unintentional deaths or wrongful deaths by type:

All Unintentional Injury Deaths

  • Number of deaths: 224,935

  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 67.8

Unintentional Fall Deaths

  • Number of deaths: 44,686

  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 13.5

Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths

  • Number of deaths: 45,404

  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 13.7

Unintentional Poisoning Deaths

  • Number of deaths: 102,001

  • Deaths per 100,000 population: 30.7

These are just a few examples in which a wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate. Here are some more facts about wrongful deaths in the United States:

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 36,096 total deaths in 2019 from motor vehicle accidents. These include cars, trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians.

  • In 2019, there were 5,005 deaths resulting from accidents involving large trucks (over 10,000 pounds in weight).

  • There were 5,014 total fatalities reported as a result of motorcycle crashes.

  • Pedestrian accidents in 2019 resulted in 6,205 fatalities.

  • There were a total of 5,333 fatal work injuries in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • According to a 2016 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the country. It is estimated that over 250,000 deaths every year occur from medical errors.

  • According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Death Certificate File in 2019, there were an estimated 383 deaths associated with consumer products in the country.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that approximately 3,000 deaths occur every year due to foodborne illnesses.

  • The CDC's National Vital Statistics System states there were 69,029 deaths in the country in 2019 attributed to poisoning.

  • There were approximately 39,433 deaths attributed to unintentional falls in the United States in 2019.

  • 16,425 total homicides in the United States were reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program in 2019.

Wrongful Death Statistics in Alabama

Wrongful deaths can occur anywhere and Alabama is no exception:

  • The Alabama Department of Transportation (ADOT) data from 2020 states that there were 948 total fatalities that resulted from auto accidents.

  • Motorcycle accidents in 2020 resulted in 116 fatalities.

  • Pedestrian accidents in 2020 resulted in 89 fatalities.

  • A total of 77 fatalities resulting from large truck crashes were reported for 2020 according to Alabama Law Enforcement (ALEA) data.

  • There were 81 total fatal work injuries in Alabama in 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

  • The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) data from 2019 states that there were 536 deaths attributed to poisonings.

  • There were 1,396 fatal falls in 2019 in Alabama according to Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) data.

  • The FBI"s UCR Program reported 409 total homicides in 2019 in Alabama.

What Types of Accidents Usually Cause Wrongful Death?

There are a variety of injuries and accidents that can cause wrongful death. Some common examples of accidents or injuries that may lead to a wrongful death claim are:

Car Accidents: Reckless driving, drunk driving, speeding, and distracted driving are the most common forms of driver negligence that result in fatalities, often from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and internal bleeding. Death is more likely to occur at busy intersections, roadways, areas with inadequate infrastructure, or at night. The head-on collision is the deadliest. In Alabama, impaired driving, speeding, failure to use seat belts, reckless driving, intersection collisions, and drowsy driving are the most common factors that contribute to car accident fatalities.

Truck Accidents: Collisions that involve large trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds can lead to fatal injuries due to their size and weight as well as the disparity between their size and that of passenger vehicles. Driver inexperience, fatigue, distracted driving, and driving under the influence are the most common forms of truck driver negligence that result in fatalities. The most common causes of truck accident fatalities in Alabama are driving fatigue, speeding, impaired driving, improper loading or cargo securement, failure to observe safety regulations, and inadequate training or experience.

Medical Malpractice: Errors or negligence by healthcare professionals, such as misdiagnosis, medication errors, surgical mistakes, or birth injuries can result in fatal outcomes for patients. A doctor prescribing a medication the patient is allergic to, the wrong medication or dosage, or performing an unnecessary medical procedure are examples of medical errors that may result in death.

Workplace Accidents: Various work environments are inherently dangerous, such as construction sites, industrial settings, and transportation. Falls, machinery malfunctions, and exposure to hazardous substances are examples of work-related incidents that can result in death. The responsible parties may be the employer, a manufacturer, a third party contractor, or a combination of entities. Transportation incidents, falls, contact with objects and equipment, exposure to harmful substances, violence and assaults, fires and explosions, confined spaces, and electrical incidents are common causes that contribute to workplace fatalities in Alabama.

Product Liability: Dangerous or defective products include faulty machinery, appliances, automotive parts, or pharmaceuticals. They can cause fatal injuries or illnesses due to a manufacturing, design, or marketing defect.

Premises Liability: Failures in property management such as inadequate maintenance, hazardous conditions, or negligent security can lead to fatal accidents or incidents, including slip and fall accidents, assaults, dog bites, or drowning.

Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect: Failure to provide people at nursing homes and long-term care facilities with adequate care, or engaging in neglect or physical and emotional abuse toward them can result in fatalities.

Recreational Accidents: Boating accidents, amusement park incidents, sports-related injuries, or outdoor recreational activities can result in fatalities. Drowning, recreational motor vehicle accidents, hunting accidents, falls, sports injuries, and heat-related illnesses are the most common causes of recreational accident fatalities in Alabama.

Unlawful Violence: Deliberate intent to harm or behave recklessly can result in someone's wrongful death.

The Benefits of Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The most important benefit of a wrongful death lawsuit is that the deceased person's loved ones receive compensation for their financial burdens and emotional suffering. According to Alabama law, the deceased's surviving family members that are considered legal beneficiaries can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Another benefit is that a wrongful death lawsuit can inspire changes to laws as a deterrent to negligent behavior. For example, leash laws state where and how dog owners should secure their dogs and how to deal with dangerous dogs. Penalties for drunk driving reduce the risk of a drunk driver on the road. Because a wrongful death lawsuit against an individual, company, or other entity holds the liable party responsible, they will be less likely to engage in negligent behavior in the future.

Sometimes, the responsible party may have criminal charges against them as well, if their actions were criminal in nature. You can still file a civil lawsuit against the person for wrongful death, even when they are being held criminally liable also.

Wrongful death and survival action claims deal with civil law, whereas a murder or manslaughter charge falls under criminal law and court. The victim's family can have a wrongful death claim even if the negligent party does not have criminal charges associated with the wrongful death. To get more information about whether your family should pursue a wrongful death claim in Alabama, contact our office for a free consultation.

Who can file a wrongful death claim in Alabama?

Many states allow for surviving family members to file a wrongful death suit for their loved one. This typically includes their surviving adult children, spouse, and parents. Alabama law requires that the only party who can file a wrongful death suit is the personal representative or executor of the deceased person's estate.

Who are the beneficiaries of a wrongful death suit in Alabama?

Like with a survival action, the personal representative of the deceased person's estate can file a wrongful death suit. But whereas in a survival action the award goes to the deceased person's estate to be distributed according to the person’s will or in accordance with probate laws, the award from a wrongful death suit goes to the deceased's heirs. In Alabama, it is usually the deceased's surviving spouse, children, parents, and siblings.

Who Is liable for a wrongful death in Alabama?

The responsible parties in a wrongful death in Alabama depend on the circumstances. In a wrongful death case, it is necessary to evaluate where and how the death occurred. Here are some examples of potentially responsible parties according to the type of wrongful death:


Car accident:

  • Driver

  • Passenger

  • Car salesman

  • Mechanic

  • Automobile manufacturer

  • City or county

Truck accident:

  • Driver

  • Trucking company

  • Mechanic

  • Automobile manufacturer

  • City or county

Workplace accident:

  • Boss

  • Employer

  • Co-worker(s)

Medical malpractice:

  • Health care provider

  • Hospital or clinic

Product liability:

  • Product manufacturer

  • Product salesperson

  • Product distributor

Premises liability:

  • Property owner

Foodborne illness:

Nursing home abuse or neglect:

  • Nursing home staff

  • Other resident(s)

  • Nursing home company

Negligence Rule in Alabama

Whoever is liable for the accident and subsequent wrongful death is responsible for damages. If negligence was determined to be the cause of the death, such as a drunk driver causing a car wreck, then the negligent driver will be determined to be liable. However, contributory negligence laws in Alabama can prevent an injured person from recovering anything if they were even a small percentage at fault for the accident. That means that even when negligence can be proven, a responsible party could still be able to walk away without paying any damages if another party shared in the fault for the accident.


To avoid this situation, it is best to consult with one of our Alabama wrongful death lawyers at your earliest convenience.

Wrongful Death Recoverable Damages

Alabama is different from many other states in terms of what damages you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, many states allow for wrongful death damages to compensate survivors for the many costs that are usually associated with a wrongful death. There is a range of damages people in other states may be able to claim in their wrongful death lawsuit, including things like funeral expenses, pain and suffering, lost income, and more.

The wrongful death statute in Alabama, however, only allows for punitive damages. This is because our state law views the wrongful death lawsuit as a means of punishing the defendant moreso than compensating the surviving family. Although the defendant's wrongful actions may not have any charges under criminal law, they are punished under civil law with financial penalties.

Punitive damages for a wrongful death action still end up with the same outcome as typical compensatory damages. But it also serves as a means of sending a strong message to the defendant -- that their wrongful conduct which caused the victim's death is not to be repeated.

Is there a cap on punitive damages in Alabama?

Though there is a cap on personal injury matters in Alabama, these caps do not apply to wrongful death cases. Some states cap the amount of damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a wrongful death suit, but Alabama has no such limit.

Survival Damages

A survival action is a cause of action that would have continued had the deceased person not died. This usually applies when a personal injury lawsuit was already in progress due to an injury that occured prior to the deceased person’s death. It is meant to compensate the victim's estate for damages suffered.

A survival action or survival claim awards the deceased’s estate for economic, non-economic, and punitive damages that may include:

  • Medical bills

  • Lost wages

  • Property damage costs

  • Pain and suffering

  • Loss of consortium

  • Funeral and burial expenses


Do I have to pay taxes on a wrongful death settlement?

Federal law states that wrongful death settlements are non-taxable. They do not count as a source of income and therefore, do not need to be reported to the IRS.

Is there a death benefit in my deceased loved one's PIP policy?

If your loved one died as a result of a motor vehicle accident, and they had PIP (personal injury protection coverage), you may be able to receive a death benefit. If they died as a result of a workplace accident, there is also a death benefit for their heirs.

How are wrongful death damages divided in Alabama?

A wrongful death settlement is divided among each surviving family member according to their relationship to the deceased. In Alabama, when there is no will, intestate succession dictates that the surviving spouse, children, parents, and siblings receive damages according to the following criteria:

  1. Children but no spouse: 100%

  2. Spouse but no children or parents: 100%

  3. A spouse and children of that spouse you also have legal custody of: spouse inherits first $50,000 of estate, plus half of the balance of the property; children inherit the remaining

  4. A spouse and your children: each receives half

  5. A spouse and parents: spouse inherits first $100,00 of property, plus half of the balance; parents inherit the remaining

  6. Parents but no children or spouse: 100%

  7. Siblings but no children, spouse, or parents: 100%

Dividing wrongful death or survival action proceeds can be a complicated process. It is best to consult with an Alabama wrongful death lawyer to determine how these laws apply to your unique case.

How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

An Alabama wrongful death statute must be filed within two years from the date of the person's death. The statute of limitations also depends on who the claim was made against and whether a personal injury action could have been filed on the date of death.

  • Was it against a city or a county? The deadline is 6 months after the date of the person's death if the claim is against a city, or 1 year after the date of the person's death if the claim is against the county.

  • Was there a viable personal injury action? You can only file a wrongful death lawsuit if there could have been a timely (within two years from the date of injury) personal injury action filed on the date of death. If the statute of limitations had already expired, you cannot file a wrongful death suit.

To make sure you properly file your wrongful death claim on time, it is best to consult a wrongful death attorney. Our team at Cockrell, Cockrell, Ritchey & Ritchey can help guide you through the wrongful death process and handle all communications, filings, and negotiations for you.

Leading Alabama Wrongful Death Lawyers

A loved one's death that is untimely and traumatic can emotionally and financially devastate their surviving family members. When a defendant's wrongful act causes that untimely death, it is a wrongful death and a lawsuit can be filed. Alabama law states that the responsible parties may be punished via punitive damages for their wrongful conduct that caused the person's death.

Wrongful death claims are extremely difficult to deal with for surviving family members. They are complicated to navigate and pose a challenge emotionally as well. Fortunately, there is help available. The Alabama wrongful death lawyers at Cockrell, Cockrell, Ritchey & Ritchey, LLP will fight to seek justice on your behalf for your loved one that was tragically taken away. If you have grounds for a wrongful death case, we'll help you recover compensation your family deserves. Call us today at 205-349-2009 for a no obligation consultation.


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