Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Alabama, be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Strict court filing deadlines need to be obeyed, volumes of medical records need to be sifted through and analyzed, and the plaintiff's "burden of proof" is substantial. In this article, we'll take a look at the Alabama statute of limitations deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits, and what the injured patient (the "plaintiff") usually needs to prove.
First, for the uninitiated, a "statute of limitations" is a law that can have a serious impact on your right to file a lawsuit. Specifically, this kind of law puts a strict limit on the amount of time you have to get your case started in your state's civil court system.
Like a lot of states, Alabama has a separate statute of limitations that applies specifically to medical malpractice lawsuits. The standard deadline is set by Alabama Code § 6-5-482, which gives you two years to get your lawsuit filed in the state's court system, starting from the date on which the alleged malpractice was committed.
But another component of this Alabama law could extend the filing deadline beyond two years. The statute goes on to say that "if the cause of action is not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered" within the two-year window, "then the action may be commenced within six months from the date of such discovery or the date of discovery of facts which would reasonably lead to such discovery, whichever is earlier."
Keep in mind that if you are relying on this six-month rule, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover—and could not have reasonably discovered—the existence of the claim within the two-year time limit.
Finally, despite this "discovery" exception, in Alabama there is a larger filing deadline—known as a "statute of repose"—which requires that a medical malpractice be filed no more than four years after the date on which the underlying medical error was committed, regardless of when the existence of the claim was discovered.
So, what If the statute of limitations deadline has passed and you try to file the lawsuit anyway? You can count on the defendant—that's the doctor or health care facility you're trying to sue—asking the court to dismiss the case. And if the court grants that request (as it almost certainly will), that's the end of the lawsuit.
Unlike a lot of states, Alabama does not require that a medical malpractice complaint (the legal filing that starts the lawsuit) be accompanied by an "affidavit of merit" or similar document. But the Alabama Medical Liability Act (specifically, Alabama Code § 6-5-551) does require that any medical malpractice complaint include:
Besides setting out certain details in the complaint, in proving his or her case in court, according to Alabama Code § 6-5-548, a plaintiff must:
In most cases, key liability elements are established through the testimony of a qualified expert medical witness.
A number of states have legislated a "cap" on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. The controversial impact of laws like this is that, even where a plaintiff establishes the defendant's liability for malpractice, there is a limit on the actual amount of damages the jury can award, regardless of the extent of the plaintiff's specific losses.
There is currently no cap on medical malpractice damages in Alabama (including on compensation for things like pain and suffering), so an injured patient is free to recover for all financial losses that can be attributed to the defendant's malpractice. (Note: Alabama did have a statutory cap on the books, but it was struck down by the state's highest court.)
This article provides a brief summary of some of the Alabama laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the state's laws will affect your potential situation, an experienced Alabama medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.