Does it matter if a car accident occurs in Alabama versus another state? In a big big way!!!! Why? Well, first because different states have different jurors and different beliefs on the values of these types of cases. But, more importantly, the law in Alabama regarding a death is different than every other state in the country. Yes, EVERY other state in the country.
How is it different? A car accident, industrial accident, medical malpractice incident, or any other incident in Alabama which involves a death is governed by Alabama’s Wrongful Death Statute. The Wrongful Death Statute provides:
Wrongful act, omission, or negligence causing death.
(a) A personal representative may commence an action and recover such damages as the jury may assess in a court of competent jurisdiction within the State of Alabama, and not elsewhere, for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of any person, persons, or corporation, his or their servants or agents, whereby the death of his testator or intestate was caused, provided the testator or intestate could have commenced an action for such wrongful act, omission, or negligence if it had not caused death.
(b) Such action shall not abate by the death of the defendant, but may be revived against his personal representative and may be maintained though there has not been prosecution, conviction or acquittal of the defendant for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence.
(c) The damages recovered are not subject to the payment of the debts or liabilities of the testator or intestate, but must be distributed according to the statute of distributions.
(d) Such action must be commenced within two years from and after the death of the testator or intestate.
(Code 1852, §§1940, 1941; Code 1867, §§2299, 2300; Code 1876, §§2641-2643; Code 1886, §2589; Code 1896, §27; Code 1907, §2486; Acts 1911, No. 455, p. 484; Code 1923, §5696; Code 1940, T. 7, §123.)
While this statute does not state damages are strictly punitive, the Supreme Court of Alabama has interpreted it that way, and the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions clearly set forth the law:
Furthermore, any confusion on the part of the jury regarding the proper assessment of damages in this case should have been dispelled by the following charge given at the close of the arguments of counsel:
“In a suit brought for a wrongful act, omission or negligence causing death, the damages recoverable are punitive and not compensatory; damages in this type of action are entirely punitive, imposed for the preservation of human life and as a deterrent to others to prevent similar wrongs.
“The amount of damages should be directly related to the amount of wrongdoing on the part of the defendant or defendants. In assessing damages, you are not to consider the monetary value of the life of the child, for damages in this type of action are not recoverable to compensate the [family] of the deceased from a monetary standpoint on account of his death, nor to compensate the plaintiffs for any financial or pecuniary loss sustained by the family of the deceased on account of his death.”
(Emphasis added; substantially quoting Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions § 11.18.)
Quoting Atkins v. Lee, 603 So.2d 937, 942-943 (Ala. 1992).
Consequently, in Alabama, you cannot argue to the jury that they should compensate the family for the death of their father or mother. You can only argue that they can punish the person at fault. This is difficult if the other person simply ran a red light. It wasn’t intentional. The same is true for the situation with Toyota. Toyota doesn’t want to see people die as a result of the defect in its accelerators, but things like this happen, and a family should be compensated for Toyota’s defect. They should not have to argue that Toyota should be punished because that can be an extremely difficult argument.
The 49 other states allow for compensation in wrongful death claims. They allow you to argue that a father who is killed had a life expectancy of 30 years, and as a result of his death, the family will lose that income.
What law do you think is better? Alabama’s or the other 49 states? We’d like to know.