Every state has unique laws when it comes to negligence in personal injury cases. Unfortunately, Alabama’s contributory negligence law can prevent a plaintiff from recovering compensation in a personal injury claim, if the plaintiff was at all responsible for the claimed damages. Most other states operate under comparative negligence laws that allow a plaintiff to recover partial damages that reflect their degree of fault, but this is not the case in Alabama.
How Does Negligence Work in Alabama?
Proving negligence in a personal injury case follows the same process in Alabama as any other state. The plaintiff must prove four basic elements of negligence to succeed with a personal injury claim:
- Duty. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care in the situation in question. For example, drivers have a duty of care to other drivers to operate their vehicles safely and abide by posted traffic signals.
- Breach of duty. Next, the plaintiff must show how the defendant breached his or her duty of care. For example, speeding or running a red light could constitute a breach of duty of care in a car accident lawsuit.
- Damage. The plaintiff only has grounds for a claim if the defendant’s behavior led to some type of measurable harm or economic damage. If the defendant was negligent but the plaintiff suffered no loss, there is no claim.
- Causation. Finally, the plaintiff must prove the link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the plaintiff’s claimed damages. For example, if a plaintiff in a car accident lawsuit claims the accident caused a back injury, the plaintiff would need to provide evidence that the injury resulted from the accident and not another cause.
If a plaintiff in an Alabama personal injury lawsuit can prove these four elements, he or she still has no guarantee of a successful lawsuit. Contributory negligence is an affirmative defense in Alabama personal injury lawsuits. If a plaintiff bears any fault in causing his or her claimed damages, the plaintiff may not recover damages.
For example, imagine a driver is distracted talking on his cell phone while passing through an intersection with a green light. Another driver runs the red light from the opposite direction and strikes the driver with the right-of-way. In this situation, the first driver may assume that the other driver is clearly at fault, but the jury may decide the first driver is also partially liable due to his cell phone use. If so, the driver would lose the right to collect compensation.
Navigating Alabama’s Negligence Laws
The doctrine of contributory negligence is a bar to recovery for many plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits in Alabama, but there are some exceptions. For example, minors under the age of 14 fall under a presumption of being incapable of contributory negligence, so a defendant could not use contributory negligence as an affirmative defense in a case involving a plaintiff under 14. The same exception applies to people with limited competence or mental handicaps.
Due to the harsh nature of the contributory negligence law, many lobbyists and legal advocates have been pushing for a modification to the current law, but there are no indications that it is likely to change any time soon. Many Alabama residents would like to see a modification to the current laws or for the state to adopt a modified comparative negligence system that would at least allow some recovery for partial liability.
For now, anyone who believes he or she has grounds for a personal injury claim in Alabama should consult with an attorney before pursuing legal action. If there is any chance the plaintiff could bear liability for an accident, it may not be worth the expense to pursue a lawsuit that will not yield any compensation for the plaintiff.