Trying a wrongful-death action in Alabama is like playing basketball in a straitjacket. “[Y]ou are not allowed to say anything about the plaintiff,” says attorney Fredric G. Levin. “The jury instructions are that damages are entirely punitive, as a deterrent to others. You can’t consider the monetary worth of a life. You can’t talk about the family” and the effects of the death on the individual members. “You can’t tell the jury this was the greatest guy in the world.

“The case has to be tried solely on the behavior of the defendant,” Mr. Levin continues. This usually limits the amount that can be won, he adds, because “it takes the sympathy out of the equation.”

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