If you think that you might have a valid medical malpractice claim in Alabama, you are probably wondering what state laws might come into play in your case. In this article, we'll provide an overview of several important state laws that apply to a medical malpractice claim, lawsuit, or settlement in Alabama.
All states have very specific deadlines for filing medical malpractice lawsuits. These deadlines -- which are set by state law -- are called statutes of limitations. Medical malpractice statutes of limitations can be somewhat complex because they may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines.
The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice a certain number of years to file a lawsuit after the alleged malpractice occurred. The standard deadline in Alabama is two years. That means, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years after the malpractice occurred, you lose your right to sue for medical malpractice unless you fall within one of the exceptions created by the other parts of the statute of limitations (we'll discuss these in the next sections).
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule. The discovery rule is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case. The Alabama discovery rule states that, if the injured person did not discover the medical malpractice claim and could not reasonably have discovered the claim within the regular two year statute of limitations, then the lawsuit may be commenced within six months from the date of discovery of the malpractice or the date of discovery of facts which would reasonably lead to such discovery, whichever is earlier.
The third part of the statute of limitations is the deadline for minors (children under age eighteen) or their parents or legal guardians to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In Alabama, there is a special deadline only for minor children under age four at the time of the malpractice. If a child under four years of age is the victim of medical malpractice, the child shall have until his eighth birthday to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The fourth part of the statute of limitations is sometimes called a statute of repose. Not all states have a statute of repose in medical malpractice cases, and not all states call them statutes of repose. A statute of repose imposes an absolute deadline to medical malpractice claims, regardless of when the victim discovered them. In Alabama, the statute of repose provides that a medical malpractice lawsuit may not be commenced more than four years after the alleged act of medical malpractice, except for minor children, who are subject to the minor child deadline stated above.
Alabama has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances. For example, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant fraudulently concealed the malpractice, if the defendant left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was insane.
The Alabama statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at Code of Alabama section 6-5-482.
Some states have caps or limits on the amount of the damages that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. Alabama has no such cap.
In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor's instructions. If you go to trial and are found to be partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
Alabama follows a harsh "contributory negligence" rule. This means, if you are found to be at all negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, you are completely barred from recovering any damages at all. Very few states still follow this rule, but Alabama is one of them.
Many states have passed laws requiring plaintiffs' lawyers in medical malpractice cases to submit some proof of the defendant's negligence at the beginning of the case before they will be allowed to proceed with the lawsuit. This proof is usually in the form of a report containing the opinion of a physician that the defendant was negligent. In some states, the report is called the Certificate of Merit and, in others, the Offer of Proof. Alabama has no such requirement.
If you would like more information on Alabama's medical malpractice laws, you can do a little research of your own. These laws can be found at Code of Alabama 6-5-480 to 6-5-488.