Last year Greg Allen, our firm’s lead products liability lawyer, won a $5,250,000 judgment in an Alabama wrongful death case. In that case, our client’s sister was killed when the textile warper she was using at work pulled her into the rotating parts. The Defendants’ insurance company, which is incorporated in Sweden, refused to pay the judgment against the Defendants. The company claimed that its insurance policy did not cover punitive damages. In Alabama, the sole remedy for wrongful death is the awarding of punitive damages. The insurance company in Greg’s case moved to dismiss the case, arguing a lack of personal jurisdiction and said that the insurance policy’s forum selection clause prevented the Plaintiff from bringing the suit anywhere but in Sweden.
U.S. District Court Judge Keith Watkins, who sits in the Middle District of Alabama, issued an order denying the motion to dismiss under both the personal jurisdiction and forum selection clause arguments. Judge Watkins reasoned that since the insurance policy contained a territory of coverage clause that included Alabama, the Swedish insurance company specifically contracted to be brought into court in Alabama. Further, Judge Watkins reasoned that the forum selection clause requiring the Plaintiff to bring the action in Sweden was unenforceable. He said the forum selection clause would effectively deprive the Plaintiff of any remedy since the sole remedy under Alabama’s Wrongful Death Act is the recovery of punitive damages. Judge said in his ruling that “Alabama has a strong public policy interest in preventing insurance companies from enforcing a policy’s punitive damages exclusion for claims brought under the Alabama Wrongful Death Act.” He concluded that enforcing the forum selection clause would allow an insurance company that contracted to litigate in Alabama to evade Alabama’s Wrongful Death Act by letting a Swedish court apply Swedish law instead of Alabama law.
Alabama is the only jurisdiction in the country that does not compensate the survivor for the wrongful death of the decedent. If an insurance company was allowed to exclude punitive damages in death cases, that would effectively make it cheaper for companies insured by the insurer to manufacture products that kill people rather than simply injuring them.
Lawyers in our firm have handled hundreds of these cases under Alabama’s unique Wrongful Death Act since the firm was founded in 1979. If you would like additional information on anything relating to Greg’s case or concerning Alabama’s Wrongful Death Act, please contact Stephanie Stephens Monplaisir, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Stephanie.Stephens@beasleyallen.com.