Alabama Medical Malpractice Laws

The nuts and bolts of Alabama medical malpractice law, including lawsuit deadlines, what you need to prove, and what happens if you’re partly to blame for your injuries.

By , MSLIS · Long Island University
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you live in Alabama and you're thinking about filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should know about the laws that are likely to impact your case. We'll explain some of Alabama's basic medical malpractice laws, like how long you have to file your lawsuit, what your complaint—the document that starts your lawsuit—needs to include, and more.

Alabama's Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

Alabama has a specific medical malpractice statute of limitations—a deadline for filing your lawsuit in court. In most cases, you have two years from the date of the malpractice to sue. (Ala. Code § 6-5-482(a) (2023).)

The "discovery rule." What if you don't find out about the malpractice during the two-year limitation period? In that case, Alabama's "discovery rule" might give you more time. The discovery rule lets you file a lawsuit up to six months after the earlier of:

  • the date you discovered the malpractice, or
  • the date you had enough facts that you should have discovered the malpractice.

Alabama's "statute of repose." Alabama's "statute of repose" puts a deadline on the discovery rule. You can't file a malpractice case more than four years after the date of the malpractice. This deadline applies even if you never discovered (and couldn't have discovered) the malpractice within the four-year time limit.

Can the deadline be extended? Sometimes, yes. For example, if the injured patient (the "plaintiff") is younger than four years old, the filing deadline is the child's eighth birthday. (Ala. Code § 6-5-482(b) (2023).) There are other exceptions to Alabama's medical malpractice statute of limitations. If you're not sure about the deadline to file your case, a medical malpractice attorney can help.

What an Alabama Medical Malpractice Complaint Must Include

The document that starts an Alabama medical malpractice lawsuit is called the complaint. Your malpractice complaint must include:

  • a detailed description of each act or omission on which the lawsuit is based, and
  • when "feasible and ascertainable," the date, time, and place of the health care provider's actions.

Failure to describe the health care provider's negligence can mean harsh consequences. The court can dismiss your lawsuit entirely. Even if the court lets your lawsuit continue, any negligent act or omission that isn't included in your complaint can't be used during the trial.

(Ala. Code § 6-5-551 (2023).)

Proving Your Alabama Medical Malpractice Case

To prove medical malpractice, you must have substantial evidence showing:

  • the applicable standard of care
  • how the health care provider you're suing (the "defendant") fell short of the standard of care
  • that you suffered an injury, and
  • that your injury was caused by the defendant's negligence.

The Standard of Care

The foundation of any medical negligence case is the standard of care—what a reasonably careful, similarly situated health care provider would have done under the circumstances. If the defendant is a board-certified specialist, the standard of care must be what a reasonably careful, board-certified specialist would have done.

You'll need a qualified expert witness to prove the applicable standard of care.

Breach of the Standard of Care

Your expert witness will also need to show how the defendant failed to meet ("breached") the standard of care. The question here is: What did the defendant do wrong? Maybe your doctor missed or incorrectly diagnosed your condition. Or a nurse gave you the wrong medication. Absent a breach of the standard of care, there's no medical negligence.

Your Injuries

You don't have a viable medical malpractice case unless you were injured by the defendant's negligence. Did your condition worsen to the point that it can't effectively be treated? Or will your treatment take longer, and be more costly and painful? Injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and more can also be compensated.

Injuries Caused by Defendant's Negligence

Finally, you must show that the defendant's breach of the standard of care caused your injuries. In most cases, this element—called "causation"—follows from proving that the defendant breached the standard of care and that you suffered an injury. Sometimes, though, you'll struggle to prove causation. Your expert witness will be critical for this proof.

No Damage Caps in Alabama Medical Malpractice Cases

Many states have enacted limits, called "caps," on the damages that are available in medical malpractice cases. Alabama has tried, without success, to cap malpractice damages. (See, for example, Ala. Code § 6-5-547 (2023) ($1 million cap on wrongful death medical malpractice damages).)

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the state's malpractice damage caps are unconstitutional. As a result, the caps don't apply. (See, for example, Smith v. Schulte, 671 So.2d 1334 (Ala. 1996) ($1 million cap on wrongful death medical malpractice damages violates Alabama Constitution); Moore v. Mobile Infirmary Ass'n., 592 So.2d 156 (Ala. 1992) ($400,000 damage cap in medical malpractice cases violates state constitution).)

Alabama law caps punitive damages—damages that are intended to punish a wrongdoer for malicious or grossly negligent conduct. (See Ala. Code § 6-11-21 (2023).) Because punitive damages are rarely awarded in medical malpractice cases, this cap isn't likely to impact the value of your lawsuit.

Alabama's Contributory Negligence Rule

In a typical medical malpractice case, you must prove that the defendant was negligent in order to collect damages. Sometimes, the defendant will argue that you were negligent too, and that your negligence should reduce (or completely eliminate) your damages.

For example, maybe you didn't follow your doctor's post-surgery wound care instructions and you developed an infection. Your doctor likely will argue that your carelessness was the cause of the infection.

Alabama follows a harsh "contributory negligence" rule. Under this rule, you're completely barred from recovering any damages if you're even the tiniest bit at fault for your injuries. Suppose, for example, that the court finds your doctor's negligence was 99% responsible for your injuries, but that you were 1% negligent. Under Alabama law, you can't recover any compensation—even though your doctor was almost entirely to blame.

Next Steps

As a rule, medical malpractice cases are factually and legally complicated. You'll need expert witnesses to prove what the defendant did wrong and how you were harmed. The defendant will have an army of lawyers on their side. You should have experienced legal counsel in your corner to make it a fair fight.

Here's how to find a medical malpractice lawyer in your area who's right for you and your case.

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