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Damages awarded in wrongful death cases vary significantly from state to state. In many states, damages include lost income that the deceased person would have earned, economic value of a life, and grief or emotional distress suffered by the surviving family members.

In Alabama, however, the measure of damages is different. All damages for wrongful death in Alabama are considered punitive or exemplary due to a nineteenth-century Alabama Supreme Court precedent. This means that, when a wrongful death case is tried to a jury, the jury is told to consider that these damages are 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 or culpability on the part of the defendant.

An Alabama jury is permitted to recognize the sanctity of human life in considering the amount of a jury verdict. In determining the proper amount of a verdict for a defendant’s negligence, it may consider the ease with which the defendant could have avoided the death. Examples of this factor could include the ease with which a driver could have paid attention at a red light; a trucking company instituting a safety program to better train its drivers; or a manufacturer implementing an interlock safety device on a machine which is subject to causing injury.

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