Alcohol impairment is one of the leading causes of traffic-related deaths. In 2016, nearly 10,500 people were killed in crashes involving an impaired driver.1 Unfortunately, the DUI arrest rate is much lower – just over a million drivers were arrested in 2016 for driving under the influence, a minuscule number compared to the 111 million self-reported incidents of alcohol-impaired driving that same year.2
If you’ve lost a loved one in a DUI crash, you may be wondering what legal action you can take. Depending on the specifics of the case, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death laws allow survivors to pursue consequences for those whose negligence or intentional act of harm caused a loved one’s death. Each state has its own wrongful death statute, so it’s important to know the limitations of the law in your state. For example, in Alabama, a wrongful death claim is like a personal injury claim, except the estate of the deceased person steps in to seek compensation on their behalf.3 Unlike other states, Alabama doesn’t allow family members of the deceased to file the claim – it must be done by a representative of their estate.
How State Laws Affect Damages
Though many DUI crashes result in criminal charges, some do not. If your loved one was killed in a DUI crash and the driver was not charged, you still may be able to file a wrongful death claim in civil court.
State laws also affect how damages are handled. Because a wrongful death case is a civil claim, liability comes in the form of damages, rather than punishment by imprisonment or other penalties that can be decided in a criminal case.
Many states offer compensatory damages, which cover funeral expenses, medical bills and other losses. Alabama’s wrongful death statute allows only for punitive damages, which are designed to:
- Punish a defendant who’s found negligent
- Deter similar negligent actions in future
Any damages awarded are paid directly to the deceased person’s heirs.
Timeline for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Each state’s statute of limitations sets a time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. In Alabama, a case must be filed within two years of the date of the incident. In rare cases, the deadline may be extended. If you miss the window for filing a lawsuit, you could lose your right to a legal remedy.
When a loved one dies in an alcohol-related crash, family members are often left stunned and unsure where to turn for help. Seeking legal advice immediately following the accident is advised, as evidence can be collected and eyewitnesses can be contacted. Memories get fuzzy, damages get repaired and the chance of video or photographic evidence being deleted or lost rises as time passes. Acting quickly is the best way to ensure as much evidence as possible is collected.
Legal Support for Wrongful Death Claims in Birmingham, AL
If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim, it’s wise to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can answer any questions you have about your case.
The attorneys at Farris, Riley & Pitt have represented many families who have lost loved ones in tragic accidents. Our team understands the importance of working quickly to gather evidence that can be used to help us fight for the justice you deserve. We have extensive experience representing drunk driving cases and other wrongful death claims in Alabama.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to someone getting behind the wheel when they were intoxicated or otherwise acting irresponsibly, call 205-324-1212 or contact us online for a FREE case evaluation.