It’s a call that no one wants to get. At Petro Law Firm, we mourn with our clients who lost a loved one due to another driver’s negligence or reckless conduct. If you’re dealing with this unthinkable situation, you need to understand your legal rights. In this article, we outline what happens when someone is killed in a car accident.
Alabama’s Top Causes of Fatal Car Crashes
In 2018, 953 people died in Alabama car accidents – and one in three people in our state will be in a serious or fatal car crash during their lifetimes. We all need to be aware of their causes – and how to keep ourselves as safe as possible.
There are many reasons for fatal car accidents. In Alabama, they include:
- Failure to yield to the right of way
- Improper lane changes
- Drunk and drugged driving
- Drowsy driving
- Distracted driving
- Ignored traffic lights and signs
- Commercial and truck driving regulatory violations
- Driving too fast for the weather and road conditions
- Dangerous and defective vehicles and parts, such as tires and brakes
- Pedestrian and bicycle crashes
However, there is one glaring fact that we cannot overlook. In 2018, nearly 56% of people who died in car crashes were not wearing a seatbelt. We cannot emphasize that you should always buckle up every time you get into a car. This simple act can save your life.
No matter the cause, a fatal crash can leave your family reeling and lost. To pick up the pieces, you need guidance and emotional support from a skilled injury lawyer.
How Do I File a Wrongful Death Claim in Alabama?
Filing a wrongful death claim after a fatal car crash is not a simple or easy process. First, you cannot simply file a lawsuit on your loved one’s behalf. Instead, you need to open an estate with the courts. An estate legally represents the deceased individual.
To open an estate, you will need to file documents with the probate court and name a personal representative. Typically, the personal representative is a close family member or another trusted individual. Your legal team can help you navigate this process – and can connect you with a probate lawyer, if necessary.
Once you’ve named a personal representative, this individual can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of your loved one. You typically have two years from your loved one’s passing to file this lawsuit – so you need to act quickly.
What Can I Recover in a Lawsuit Against the At-Fault Driver?
Unlike some states, Alabama limits the damages you can receive during a wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent driver. Because you can’t put a value on human life, Alabama does not let you demand compensation for lost income and other damages. Instead, you can only demand punitive damages – which aim to punish the driver for their recklessness or intentional acts.
Therefore, the focus of your wrongful death claim will not be your loved one’s pain and suffering or lost income. Rather, your lawyer will need to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash and identify all of the mistakes, reckless acts, and intentional things that the driver did to cause your losses. This requires intense attention to detail, a careful investigation, and the ability to explain the facts to the jury.
Furthermore, any winnings that the estate recovers will be distributed under Alabama’s intestacy laws, which address inheritance. This is true even in your loved one had a will. Therefore, you will only receive compensation from a fatal car accident claim if you are a spouse or close family member – friends and unmarried partners may be excluded from compensation.
However, in addition to your wrongful death claims, you may be able to recover additional financial compensation if your loved one had Med Pay coverage and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which may step in and help offset your losses.
My Loved One Was Not Wearing a Seat Belt When They Died. Now What?
Alabama has strict contributory negligence laws. If you helped caused the crash, even by 1%, you cannot recover damages. However, there is an important exclusion to this rule. Under Alabama law, failing to wear a seatbelt is not considered evidence of contributory negligence – so don’t believe the insurance company if they tell you otherwise.
What Happens When Someone Is Killed in a Car Accident? We Can Help
Petro Law Firm has been guiding grieving families through their legal claims for years. We provide dedicated and personalized service and will give you space to grieve, mourn, and rebuild. At the same time, we will stand up for your loved one and demand justice. To request a free consultation, contact our office. Our team will give you the time you need and help you understand every one of your legal options.