In Alabama, un-filed tort claims do not survive the death of the victim. This is because of a special statute created by our legislature.
Why is this significant? Consider the impact of this technicality on two different, hypothetical, tort victims. Both victims suffer terrible injuries when struck head-on by an intoxicated driver. Both are rushed to the hospital. Both spend months receiving very expensive, specialized medical care. Did I point out that months of hospital care would be very expensive! Both lose wages. The first victim files his case against the intoxicated driver who injured him. Then, he dies. The second victim dies before he can file his claim. For the first victim (who actually filed his claim), his estate can still pursue the claims and seek to recover for the tremendous damages. For the second victim, his estate must now pay huge expenses for medical care and other losses out of his assets, with no ability to recover these items from the person actually at fault. Needless to say, these bills could easily consume an entire estate and leave the heirs with nothing.
Doesn’t Alabama allow wrongful death claims? Yes. If the above victims died from their injuries (and not some separate cause), their heirs could pursue wrongful death claims. However, under Alabama law, you cannot recover compensatory damages in a wrongful death claim. Under Alabama’s unique wrongful death procedure, only punitive damages are recoverable. So, again, one estate can recover these huge expenses while the other cannot.
This unique aspect of Alabama law can lead to devastating consequences for families. However, this injustice could be easily fixed by our legislature. Alabama could adopt the Uniform Law Commissioners’ Model Survival and Death Act or enact some other provision that fixes this problem. In prior years, proposals have been introduced into our legislature. It is certainly time for this issue to be seriously considered.