Alabama Car Accident Laws

A detailed look at the statutory time limits for filing a car accident lawsuit in Alabama courts, the state's contributory negligence rule, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been injured after any kind of traffic accident in Alabama, a few state laws could have a big impact on any claim you decide to make, including:

  • the two-year deadline for the filing of most car accident injury lawsuits in Alabama's civil court system, and
  • Alabama's plaintiff-unfriendly "contributory negligence" rule, which prevents financial recovery if the claimant was even partly responsible for causing the car accident.

That's the broad view of the law in Alabama. Now, let's look at the specifics.

The Alabama Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a strict time limit on the right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to the filing of a car insurance claim. An insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is probably going to require that you make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger the filing of a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

As is true in most states, the statute of limitations that affects car accident lawsuits in Alabama is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases. You can find this law at Alabama Code section 6-2-38 (2021), which sets a two-year deadline for "all actions for any injury to the person or rights of another."

That same two-year statute of limitations deadline also applies if a car accident results in a death, and the personal representative of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person who caused the crash.

For purposes of the statute of limitations, the two-year "clock" starts running on the day the injury occurs—that means the date of the car accident. If you don't get your case started before the deadline passes, you can count on the court dismissing it once you do try to file. So it's obviously crucial to understand how the statute of limitations applies to your case.

If you only want to file a lawsuit over vehicle damage, you have six years to get that kind of case filed against the at-fault driver, according to Alabama Code section 6-2-34 (2021).

Not every car accident will lead to a lawsuit, but it's always a good idea to keep all options on the table. So even if you think your situation will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to get a car accident lawsuit filed in Alabama's court system, and talk to an experienced lawyer if you're running up against the filing deadline.

Contributory Negligence in Alabama Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in an Alabama car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was mostly responsible for the accident—but that you share part of the blame. What happens next? How does this finding affect your right to compensation?

Under Alabama's "contributory negligence" rule, you cannot receive money damages if you are found to have played even the slightest part in causing the accident. You can't recover any compensation at all from the other driver, in other words. (Only a handful of states follow the "contributory negligence" rule. Most states use what's known as "comparative negligence", which allows an at-fault driver to recover some damages as long as he or she is not more than 50 percent responsible for the crash.)

Not only does the contributory negligence rule bind Alabama judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, so if it looks like you share any amount of blame or the accident, get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.

Even though this is a tough rule, don't let it prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an Alabama attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Alabama's Car Insurance Rules and Requirements

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Alabama, like most states, requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage in order to operate the vehicle legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Alabama auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.

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