Can an Alabama family file a lawsuit over fetal death?

Family members of a victim killed in a car accident can seek financial restitution through a wrongful death claim in Alabama. In Alabama, wrongful death cases are compensated solely by punitive damages. But, what if the decedent is a fetus? Can a family file a wrongful death claim over fetal death?

Fetal death as it relates to car crashes is a complicated issue. The rights and protection surrounding family members of a fetus remains hazy in several states. An unusual lawsuit stemming from the death of a family on Sept. 9, in a wreck in Nebraska is gaining much national attention, and raising many questions along the way regarding fetal death.

Reportedly, a family was driving through Nebraska for a cross-country move to California when traffic came to a halt because of an accident between two trucks. The pregnant mother was driving a vehicle with her two sons as passengers, while the father was in another vehicle behind the mother. A truck driver slammed into the stand still traffic at 75 miles per hour, causing a chain reaction that pushed the father's vehicle into the mother's which, went under another semi truck. The mother, father, two sons and fetus all died instantly.

According to the lawsuit subsequently filed, the truck driver that slammed into the father's vehicle violated federal highway safety rules by being behind the wheel more than the maximum 14 hours allowed in one sitting without taking at least 10 hours off. Consequently, the parents of the mother filed a wrongful death claim naming the truck driver that hit the father's car, the truck driver's employer, and the truckers that caused the back up all as defendants for claims of negligence, vicarious liability and wrongful death. The unborn child is included as a party that was wrongfully killed based on a Nebraska law.

A ruling was issued here in Alabama in Feb. stating that a medical malpractice claim could be issued against a party that cause the death of a fetus even if the unborn child was not at a stage that could have survived outside the womb. Cases in which the fetus of a pregnant woman dies due to negligence of a third party are largely uncharted territory in many states, and the outcome of this case remains to be seen, but could impact proceedings regarding fetal death elsewhere in the future.

Source: SFGate, "Neb. Crash lawsuit invokes fetal death law," Grant Schulte, Nov. 4, 2012