Suppose you've been injured in Alabama—maybe in a car accident, a slip and fall, or because of medical malpractice. Before you bring a personal injury claim or file a lawsuit against the party who's responsible for your injuries, you should understand the basics of Alabama personal injury law.
We'll take you through the fundamentals, including:
Like all states, Alabama has deadlines, called "statutes of limitations," on filing personal injury lawsuits in court.
Under Alabama law, a lawsuit "for any injury to the person or rights of another" must be filed in court within two years. (Ala. Code § 6-2-38(l) (2023).) In most cases, the two-year clock begins running on the date you were injured.
This two-year limitations period also applies to:
Alabama law has special statutes of limitations for certain kinds of personal injury cases. For example, if you were injured by a dangerous product and you want to sue the original seller of the product, you typically must file your lawsuit within one year from the date you were hurt. (Ala. Code § 6-5-502(a)(1) (2023).)
As a general rule, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice and legal malpractice lawsuits is two years from the date of the malpractice. (Ala. Code § 6-5-482(a) (2023) (medical malpractice); Ala. Code § 6-5-574(a) (2023) (legal malpractice).)
There are some exceptions to the two-year deadline that might, in limited circumstances, allow you more time to file a personal injury lawsuit. Here are some (but not all) of the exceptions to the two-year general rule.
If the injured person was under 19 years old on the date they were injured, the statute of limitations clock doesn't start running until the person turns 19. (Ala. Code § 6-2-8(a) (2023).)
Most often, the statute of limitations clock starts to run on the date you were injured. But what if you didn't know right away that you were hurt? In that case, the discovery rule might temporarily stop the clock from running until the date you actually discovered (or should have discovered) that you were injured.
Suppose you were hurt because of medical malpractice, but you weren't aware of your injury when it happened. Ala. Code § 6-5-482(a) (2023) says you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit within six months from the date you discovered or should have discovered the malpractice.
If the party responsible for your injury is "absent from the state," the statute of limitations period temporarily stops running during the absence. (Ala. Code § 6-2-10 (2023).)
The consequence of failing to file your personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out is harsh: You lose the right to sue, forever. Unless there's an exception, if you try to file your lawsuit after the deadline expires, the court will have no choice but to dismiss the case.
Statutes of limitations are among the most complex and difficult laws to understand. Don't risk losing your personal injury claim because of a statute of limitations mistake. Get timely advice from an experienced Alabama lawyer.
In most states, if you're partly at fault for the accident that caused your injuries, your share of the blame reduces the amount of compensation (called "damages") you can collect. Unfortunately, that's not the rule in Alabama.
Alabama is one of just a few states that still follow the harsh "contributory negligence" rule. Under this rule, if you're at all to blame for your injuries, you can't collect any damages—no matter how small your share of the blame or how badly you were hurt.
Here's how it works. Say you were seriously injured in a car accident. Your total damages are $500,000. You file a lawsuit. The jury decides that the other party, called the "defendant," was 99% responsible for the accident, but finds that you were 1% to blame.
How much in damages can you collect? Zero. Even the tiniest amount of fault on your part means you collect nothing under Alabama's contributory negligence rule.
There are two exceptions to Alabama's contributory negligence rule:
Alabama law says that a person who's younger than 14 years old can't be contributorily negligent. Stated a bit differently, Alabama's contributory negligence rule applies only to persons who are 14 years old or older.
If the person who injured you acted wantonly—that is, with conscious disregard for your safety—Alabama's contributory negligence rule doesn't apply. To bring this exception into play, you'll have to prove that the person who hurt you knew their behavior created a substantial risk of injury, but acted anyway.
Contributory negligence is a claim killer. Insurance adjusters and insurance company lawyers know this, of course. You should expect them to raise it as a defense in your case, even if just to gain leverage for settlement negotiations.
If contributory negligence is an issue in your case, you'll need to have experienced legal counsel on your side.
The damages you can collect in an Alabama personal injury case fall into two general categories:
Compensatory damages include both "economic" (also called "special") damages, and "noneconomic" (also called "general") damages. Economic damages include out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills, lost wages and benefits, and amounts you pay for things like medical equipment and medicines. Noneconomic damages are intended to compensate you for more intangible losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disability.
In most cases, Alabama law doesn't limit (or "cap") compensatory damages. In other words, you're entitled to the full amount of economic and noneconomic damages you can prove.
If a city, town, or county is responsible for personal injuries or wrongful death, the government's damage liability is capped at $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. (Ala. Code § 11-93-2 (2023).) There are no exceptions to this cap.
In nearly all states, when a person is wrongfully killed, family members can collect compensatory damages for losses like funeral expenses and lost income or support. Not so in Alabama. In an Alabama wrongful death case, family members can collect only punitive damages against the party responsible for the death.
Punitive damages aren't intended to compensate you for your losses. Instead, they're meant to punish a wrongdoer and to deter others from behaving similarly.
Under Alabama law, to win punitive damages you must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that the party who injured you "consciously or deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice… ." (Ala. Code § 6-11-20(a) (2023).) To satisfy this very demanding standard, you'll need to show that the party who hurt you acted intentionally, or knew with a high degree of certainty that you'd be injured.
Except in cases involving intentional injuries or wrongful death, Alabama law caps punitive damages at the greater of:
(Ala. Code § 6-11-21(d) (2023).)
In addition, if you were injured by a "small business" (meaning a business worth $2,000,000 or less), punitive damages are capped at the greater of $50,000 or 10% of the business's value. But this cap doesn't apply in cases involving intentional injuries or wrongful death. (Ala. Code § 6-11-21(b) (2023).)
To begin an Alabama personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, in most cases, you file a document called a "complaint" in the proper Alabama circuit court. Your complaint must be accompanied by a civil cover sheet. Typically, you'll file your case in the circuit court where the accident happened, though different rules might apply.
Your complaint should describe, in plain language and numbered paragraphs, the parties involved, when, where, and how the accident happened, your injuries, and why the party you're suing is legally responsible for your injuries. You must also demand judgment for the relief (usually damages) that you seek.
Once you've filed your complaint with the court, you must have it "served"—formally delivered, along with a summons commanding the party you've sued to appear in court—on each defendant. If the complaint isn't served within 120 days after filing, the court can dismiss the lawsuit.
The Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, as applied by the trial court judge, will control your personal injury lawsuit. These rules are complex and can be difficult to understand and apply. The time to learn the rules isn't while you're trying to handle your own personal injury case. Here again, you should seek the advice of an experienced Alabama personal injury lawyer.
(Learn more about the steps in a personal injury lawsuit.)
Alabama requires that you give written, formal notice of a personal injury or wrongful death claim when the responsible party is a local government like a city, town, or county. Importantly, this notice isn't the same thing as filing a lawsuit in court. Instead, you must provide the government with written notice of your claim, using forms and procedures the local government specifies, before you're even allowed to file a lawsuit.
What happens if you fail to provide notice as required by law? You lose your right to sue the government for your injuries.
When your claim is against a city or a town, Ala. Code § 11-47-23 (2023) controls. You must present your claim to the municipal clerk within six months. In most cases, this time limit begins to run on the date of the accident.
Another Alabama statute—Ala. Code § 11-47-192 (2023)—says that in the case of a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a municipality, a statement must be filed with the municipal clerk describing:
Check with the municipal clerk or an Alabama attorney about the forms and procedures you must use and follow.
If your personal injury or wrongful death claim is against an Alabama county, you must present the claim to the county within 12 months, typically from the date of the injury or death. (Ala. Code § 11-12-8 (2023).) There are exceptions for minor children and people suffering from mental or emotional disabilities, who have 12 months after reaching adulthood or removal of the disability to present their claim.
(Learn about special rules that apply if your claim is against the federal government.)
Alabama law isn't friendly to personal injury claimants. Potential traps and complications exist at almost every turn. If you want to pursue a personal injury claim or lawsuit, your best bet will be to hire an experienced attorney to handle your case. This is someone who knows Alabama's laws and who can give you the best chance at success.
When you're ready to move forward, here's how to find a personal injury lawyer who's right for you.