What is the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations in Alabama?

The details of Alabama's statutes of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, and why paying attention to the filing deadline is so important.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

A statute of limitations is a law that limits your time to file a lawsuit in court. Alabama has lots of them, including several that apply to personal injury (PI) lawsuits. If you've been injured in Alabama—maybe in a car accident, or a slip and fall, or by a careless doctor—you need to know about the statute of limitations that applies to your case.

We'll fill you in on the basics. We start with Alabama's two-year general rule, the deadline that applies in most cases. From there, we'll cover some of the other statutes of limitations that apply to specific kinds of claims. We'll also discuss a few exceptions to the filing deadlines that might give you more time to file your personal injury lawsuit in court. We close with a brief discussion of what happens if you miss the filing deadline. Spoiler alert: Nothing good.

Alabama's General Rule for Personal Injury Lawsuits: Two Years

As a general rule, you have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit in Alabama. (Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l) (2024).) Most often, the clock starts running on the day you're injured.

Unless there's a more specific statute of limitations that's a better fit, Alabama's two-year deadline applies to lawsuits involving:

Other Statutes of Limitations for Specific Cases

Alabama's two-year general rule doesn't apply to every personal injury case. Here are some other statutes of limitations that apply to specific kinds of lawsuits.

Dangerous Products

Ala. Code § 6-5-502(a)(1) (2024) gives you just one year to sue the original seller of a dangerous or defective product that causes you injury. The one-year deadline ordinarily starts running on the date you're injured, but a special rule might apply if you didn't know right away you were injured.

The lawsuit deadline is one year from the date you discovered or you reasonably should have discovered your injury when both of these things are true:

  • your injury developed over time from ingestion of, or exposure to, an injury-causing substance, and not from a sudden trauma or event, and
  • you couldn't have discovered your injury when it happened, even if you'd been reasonably careful to look for signs and symptoms.

(Ala. Code § 6-5-502(b) (2024).)

There's a second deadline, called a "statute of repose," that limits your time to discover a product-related injury. You're not allowed to sue later than 10 years from the date the product was first put to use by any person or business—whether you discover your injury or not. (Ala. Code § 6-5-502(c) (2024).)

Certain Intentional Misconduct

Most PI claims are based on a legal theory called "negligence," which is basically carelessness. Sometimes, though, a personal injury results from intentional misconduct. When a person's deliberate, intentional act causes you harm, the law calls it an "intentional tort." Under Ala. Code § 6-2-34(1) (2024), you have six years from the date you're injured to file a lawsuit for these intentional torts:

Medical Malpractice

Most often, you must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within two years after the date you're injured. If you don't discover your injury in time to meet this two-year deadline, you have six months from the earlier of the date you discover your injury, or you had enough facts that you reasonably should have discovered it, to file your case.

There's also a statute of repose that applies to medical malpractice suits. Regardless of when (or if) you discover you've been injured, you can't sue later than four years from the date of the malpractice.

(Ala. Code § 6-5-482(a) (2024).)

(Learn more about Alabama's medical malpractice laws.)

Can the Statute of Limitations Deadline Be Extended?

In some instances, yes, Alabama law allows you more time to file your lawsuit. Here are a few examples.

The Discovery Rule

In most cases, the limitation clock starts running on the date you're injured. But what if you didn't know you'd been hurt, and you couldn't have discovered your injury even if you were diligent about looking for signs and symptoms? Should that happen, Alabama's "discovery rule" might give you more time to file your case in court. We've discussed this rule above, in connection with medical malpractice and dangerous product lawsuits.

When the discovery rule applies—and note that it doesn't apply in all PI cases—your time to sue begins running on the date you discover your injury, or you should have discovered it if you'd been reasonably careful. In some cases, a statute of repose (discussed above) limits the time you have to discover an injury. If you don't file suit before the statute of repose expires, you lose the right to sue even if you didn't find out about your injury in time.

You can expect vigorous opposition from the defendant (the party you're suing) if you try to rely on the discovery rule. You'll want experienced legal counsel to represent you and make the arguments in court.

Injured Person Is Legally Disabled

A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own legal affairs—file a lawsuit, among other things—without help or supervision, usually from a parent or guardian. Under Ala. Code § 6-2-8(a) (2024), those younger than 19 years old and persons who are "insane" are considered legally disabled.

When a legally disabled person is injured in Alabama, the limitation clock doesn't start running until their disability ends. Once that happens, they must file suit within the earlier of:

  • the time allowed under the applicable statute of limitations, or
  • three years.

Here, too, Alabama has a statute of repose. A legal disability can't pause the statute of limitations clock for more than 20 years.

Defendant Leaves Alabama

When the defendant leaves Alabama, the statute of limitations is paused for the period they're out of the state. Once they return, the clock begins (or resumes) running. (Ala. Code § 6-2-10 (2024).)

What Happens If You Miss the Filing Deadline?

The statute of limitations is a stone-cold claim killer. That's its only job, and it does that job very well. If you think you've missed the applicable statute of limitations, or if the remaining time on the deadline is short, get in touch with an Alabama PI lawyer right away. Find out how much time (if any) you have left before the limitation period expires, and whether there might be a way to extend the limitation period for your case.

When you miss the deadline and there's no way to extend it, your claim is legally dead. There's no way to bring it back to life. File a lawsuit in court and the defendant will ask the court to dismiss it. The court will have no choice but to grant that request, no matter how serious, permanent, or disabling your injuries might be.

You won't do any better if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your case without filing a lawsuit. Once the lawsuit-filing deadline runs out, you've lost all your negotiating leverage. Absent the threat or prospect of a lawsuit, there's no reason for the defendant or their insurer to take you, or your case, seriously. You have no way to force them to compensate you, so they won't pay you anything.

Get Help With Your Statute of Limitations Questions

Statutes of limitations and repose are among the most complicated, confusing, and difficult to apply of all laws. Many lawyers who don't regularly handle lawsuits won't give advice about the statute of limitations. The risk of a mistake is just too great.

Unless you're absolutely certain of the filing deadline for your case, don't chance losing your right to compensation. Contact an experienced Alabama personal injury lawyer to get the answers you need. Don't delay, because time is the enemy of your case.

When you're ready to get help, here's how to find an attorney in your area.

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