In Alabama personal injury law, wrongful death is legally defined as a death caused by the “wrongful act, omission or negligence” of another person or entity. In these cases, the deceased’s estate is legally allowed to bring a lawsuit against parties that caused their loved one’s death based on the state’s wrongful death definition.
Ordinarily, one would not think these laws applied to a fetus at first glance, but an Alabama woman made a wrongful death claim against her doctor for a miscarriage when she was six weeks pregnant. The unusual case worked its way all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court after the woman’s claim was dismissed by a Jefferson County circuit judge.
The Jefferson County judge ruled that the doctor was immune from civil lawsuits for wrongful death, which included the death of a fetus that was not yet at the stage of viability. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed this ruling, which reaffirmed a previous Alabama Supreme Court ruling that held Alabama children are protected by the state’s wrongful death law from the point of conception onward.
Legal Implications for Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Based on this latest Alabama Supreme Court decision, Alabama law reaffirms that unborn children are legally protected by the state’s wrongful death statute from the moment life begins at conception, according to Justice Tom Parker’s concurring opinion.
The legal significance of this case stems all the way back to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that allowed women to have abortions before the fetus is viable. Alabama law had previously applied this viability standard to wrongful death law until the 2011 case of Mack v. Carmack, when the Alabama Supreme Court held that the Roe standard does not apply to wrongful death law. The recent decision upholds the legal ruling of the 2011 case by a unanimous 8-0 decision.
As such, mothers can continue to sue doctors if they believe the doctor’s actions caused the wrongful death of their fetus, even if the stage of viability — as set forth by Roe — has yet to be reached. If you are a mother who miscarried a child at any stage of the pregnancy due to a doctor’s wrongful act, omission or negligence, know that you may be entitled to legal compensation.
Noel B. Leonard is an Alabama personal injury attorney who represents the surviving loved ones of wrongful death victims. From his Foley office, Noel represents wrongful death victims in Foley as well as those in Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties.
Contact Alabama injury lawyer Noel B. Leonard or call 251-943-8638 for a legal consultation to discuss the facts of your wrongful death claim to find out whether you have a strong legal claim and can hold the negligent parties accountable for your family’s loss.