Establishing Standing in Alabama Wrongful Death Claims

Apr 10, 2014 - Wrongful Death by

Alabama’s wrongful law is different in many ways than most other states. grave
In Alabama, dependents of the decedent are not allowed to file suit unless the death took place on the job. Spouses, children, parents, dependent siblings – all are potential beneficiaries. However, per Ala Code 6-5-410, only a “personal representative” of the deceased person’s estate has the ability to file a wrongful death claim. Unlike in other states, family members in Alabama can’t file a wrongful death claim on their own behalf or on behalf of the deceased – unless they are the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.

An Alabama wrongful death claim involving the death of a Montgomery man in a fatal truck accident has given rise to a challenge that could change who qualifies as a potential beneficiary.

The crash occurred one night when the man struck an overturned UPS vehicle blocking the northbound lanes of I-65.

According to recent news reports, the victim of that truck accident had been married just a few months earlier – to a man in Massachusetts. The pair were residents of Alabama, which did not and still does not legally recognize their union. That means that any monies paid to the deceased man’s estate through the wrongful death claim would be distributed solely to the man’s only other next-of-kin – his 75-year-old mother.

Now, the surviving husband, a professor at Auburn University, has filed a claim in the federal district court of Montgomery, requesting that the elder woman be prevented from receiving all of the funds that will be generated from the wrongful death claim. He insists he is entitled to well over half.

His challenge takes issue not with Alabama’s tort law or wrongful death statute specifically, but rather the state’s constitutional marriage amendment. Absent that amendment, he would be entitled as a legal spouse to file a claim for wrongful death benefits from the estate.

The mother argues that she does not wish for her son’s death to be “used to advance the cause of same-sex marriage.” She went on to say that while she did not always agree with her son’s decisions, she loved him a great deal and they had always maintained a good relationship.

The movement of this case through the court system will undoubtedly be closely watched for the fact that it involves the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage.

However, the issue of disputed claims and conflicts in wrongful death cases is not uncommon. People lead complicated lives sometimes, and there may be multiple parties that could potentially be entitled to a share of compensation.

Additional Resources:

Legal fight over dead gay man’s estate: his mom, 75, vs. his husband, April 2, 2014, By Greg Garrison, AL.com

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