Alaska's wrongful death statute sets out a number of guidelines that govern the filing and litigation of these kinds of cases in the state. In this article, we'll look at how Alaska defines wrongful death and what damages are available in a wrongful death claim, as well as the time limits on filing a wrongful death claim in Alaska's civil court system.
An Alaska wrongful death claim may be brought when one person's death results from a "wrongful act or omission of another." Another way of looking at this is to say that a wrongful death claim may usually be brought in any situation where the deceased person could have brought a personal injury claim to court if he or she had lived. For instance, if a car accident or a slip and fall accident causes death, the family or estate of the deceased person may bring a wrongful death case in Alaska court. In that situation, the family or estate "stands in" for the deceased person, to seek compensation for the carelessness or wrongdoing that caused the death.
In Alaska, a wrongful death claim must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. However, damages may be sought on behalf of both the estate and the individual survivors of the deceased person. The surviving family members must decide how to divide any damages awarded specifically to them; if they cannot agree, the court will enter a decision that will be binding (meaning the family must follow the court's instructions).
In a wrongful death case, damages are usually expressed in a single monetary amount. However, damages may be payable for many different types of losses. (Learn more about different categories of damages in injury cases.)
In an Alaska wrongful death case, any damages awarded are exclusively for the benefit of the deceased person's surviving spouse, children, or other dependents. If there are no surviving spouse, children, or dependents, the damages are paid to the estate directly.
Which damages are available in a wrongful death case -- and in what amounts -- will depend on the facts of each particular case. Common types of damages that are paid in wrongful death cases include:
In some wrongful death cases, one or more of the beneficiaries -- such as the spouse or a child of the deceased person -- may pass away before a judgment can be reached in the case. Such an event does not affect the viability of the case. The estate may still pursue the claim and seek damages for the wrongful death, even if no beneficiaries are living by the time a judgment is reached.
Just as with other types of injury claims, a statute of limitations sets a time limit on how long an estate has to file a wrongful death claim in court. Cases that are not filed before the statute of limitations expires may be barred from court entirely. Every state sets different time deadlines for filing different types of injury cases.
In Alaska, the personal representative of a deceased person's estate has two years to file a wrongful death claim in the state's civil court system. Typically, this two years begins running on the date of the deceased person's death. Since certain factors can affect the running of the two-year time limit, however, it is important to speak to an experienced attorney regarding the facts of your particular case, especially if the deadline is approaching (or you think you've already missed it).
A wrongful death claim is a civil case, which means that it is brought by a private party -- in this case, the personal representative -- and liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. In some wrongful death situations, the state may choose to pursue criminal charges as well, in which a finding of guilt may result in penalties like imprisonment. The filing of a criminal law case does not affect when or whether an estate may file a civil wrongful death claim in Alaska.