Alaska Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

If you've been injured in an accident in Alaska, make sure you understand these rules before you start your personal injury case.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

Suppose you've been injured in Alaska—maybe by a dangerous product, a careless doctor, or in a car wreck. You might be thinking about filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit. Chances are you don't know much about the Alaska laws that are likely to control your case.

We'll walk you through the basics of Alaska personal injury law. We begin with some of the deadlines that apply to filing Alaska personal injury lawsuits. From there, we'll explain what happens if you're partly to blame for an accident that injures you, Alaska's damage caps, and where to file your personal injury lawsuit.

Deadline for Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Alaska

Like all states, Alaska has deadlines that limit your time to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. These deadlines are found in laws called "statutes of limitations." As a rule, you must file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations deadline expires or you lose the right to sue, forever.

General Rule: Two Years From Date of Injury

In Alaska, unless a more specific statute of limitations applies, you have two years to file your personal injury case in court. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.070(a) (2024).) The two-year clock usually begins to run on the date you're injured.

What happens when you don't realize right away that you're hurt? In that case, Alaska's "discovery rule" might give you more time to file. Under the discovery rule, the limitation period starts running when you discover—or had you been reasonably careful, you should have discovered—your injury. (Pedersen v. Zielski, 822 P.2d 903, 906 (Alaska 1991).)

In addition to personal injuries from cases like car accidents and slip and fall claims, the two-year deadline applies to lawsuits for:

The time limit to file a lawsuit for injuries that result in death, called a wrongful death case, is two years from the date of death. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.580(a) (2024).)

Exceptions to the General Rule

In addition to the discovery rule (discussed above), Alaska law has carved out some exceptions to the general two-year statute of limitations. Here are some examples.

People suffering from a legal disability. A person who's legally disabled can't manage their own day-to-day affairs without the help or supervision of a parent, guardian, or court. In Alaska, minors (those younger than 18 years old) and mentally ill or mentally disabled persons are considered legally disabled.

Under Alaska law, the statute of limitations doesn't start running when a legally disabled person is injured. The two-year clock starts to run when the legal disability ends. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.140(a) (2024).)

Party who injured you is out of the state. When the party responsible for causing your personal injury leaves Alaska or goes into hiding in the state, the limitation clock doesn't run during the period they're absent or in hiding. (Alaska Stat. § 9.10.130 (2024).)

Get Help Computing How Long You Have to File

Statutes of limitations are among the most difficult of all laws to understand and apply. The consequences of a mistake can be devastating: You lose the right to collect compensation for your injuries, no matter how serious and life-changing they might be. Think about getting help from an experienced Alaska attorney. And don't delay, because time is the enemy of your claim.

When You're Partly Responsible for the Accident

To recover compensation (called "damages") for your injuries, you have to prove that the party who injured you was legally at fault. Most times, this means showing that they were negligent. Negligence is the failure to act as a reasonably careful person would have acted under similar circumstances.

What happens when both you and the other party are negligent, or partly at-fault for an accident? The law calls this "comparative fault" (or "comparative negligence") and it's a legal defense that's available in Alaska. The good news is that you can still collect damages for your injuries, even if you were partly to blame. The bad news is that the damages you're allowed to collect will be reduced by your share of the fault. Here's how it works.

Alaska's Pure Comparative Fault Rule

Alaska follows what's called a "pure comparative fault" rule in injury cases. When both you and someone else are legally at-fault for an accident, Alaska law first decides how much each of you was to blame. Each at-fault party is assigned a percentage of the total fault. Then the damages you're entitled to collect are reduced by the percentage of fault assigned to you. Even if it turns out that you were mostly responsible for the accident, you can still collect some damages. (Alaska Stat. § 9.17.060 (2024).)

Example: Alaska Pure Comparative Fault

Suppose you're waiting to turn left at a traffic light. An oncoming car with its right-hand turn signal flashing approaches the intersection. Thinking it's safe to turn, you enter the intersection. At the same instant, the other driver speeds into the intersection and hits your car. Both you and the other driver are hurt.

You file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver, who claims that you, too, were partly to blame and seeks damages from you. At trial, the jury decides that the other driver was 60% to blame, but that you were 40% at fault. The jury assesses your damages at $80,000 and the other driver's damages at $50,000. Here's how much each of you will collect.

Your $80,000 in damages must be reduced by the 40% of fault assigned to you, meaning you'll collect 60% of your total damages: $80,000 x 60% = $48,000. The other driver is entitled to collect 40% of their $50,000 total damages: $50,000 x 40% = $20,000. When it's all said and done, the other driver's insurance company will write you a $48,000 check. Your insurer will write the other driver a $20,000 check.

Damage Caps in Alaska Injury Cases

A damage cap is a law that limits the kind or amount of damages you can collect in a personal injury case. Personal injury damages generally fall into two categories.

Compensatory damages. As the name suggests, compensatory damages are designed to compensate someone who's been injured for the losses they've suffered. There are two kinds of compensatory damages.

  • Economic (also called "special") damages. These damages reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses like medical bills, lost wages, the costs of household replacement services, and pharmacy charges.
  • Noneconomic (also called "general") damages. Noneconomic damages are meant to cover more intangible losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disability.

Punitive damages. Punitive damages don't compensate you, the injured person, for your losses. Instead, they're intended to punish the party who injured you and to deter others from behaving similarly. Punitive damages are very difficult to win. Typically, you must prove that the person who hurt you acted intentionally, outrageously, or maliciously to cause you harm. (See, for example, Alaska Stat. § 9.17.020(b) (2024) (outrageous behavior or reckless indifference).)

Alaska Damage Caps—Cases Other Than Medical Malpractice

In personal injury cases not involving medical malpractice, noneconomic damages are subject to a two-tiered cap.

Cases without severe injuries. In cases without "severe permanent physical impairment" or "severe disfigurement," noneconomic damages are capped at the greater of $400,000 or "the injured person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $8,000… ." (Alaska Stat. § 9.17.010(b) (2024).)

Cases with severe injuries. If the case involves "severe permanent physical impairment" or "severe disfigurement," noneconomic damages are capped at the greater of $1,000,000 or "the person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $25,000… ." (Alaska Stat. § 9.17.010(c) (2024).)

Alaska Damage Caps—Medical Malpractice Cases

In medical malpractice cases, noneconomic damages are subject to a two-tiered cap. Note that these limits don't apply if the medical malpractice arose from intentional or reckless misconduct. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(f) (2024).)

Cases without severe injuries or death. When a medical malpractice case doesn't involve a wrongful death claim or a "severe permanent physical impairment that is more than 70% disabling," noneconomic damages are capped at $250,000. (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(d) (2024).)

Cases with severe injuries or death. The noneconomic damages cap is raised to $400,000 in a medical malpractice case that involves wrongful death or a "severe permanent physical impairment that is more than 70% disabling." (Alaska Stat. § 9.55.549(e) (2023).)

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages in Alaska are also subject to a two-tiered cap, depending on the wrongdoer's culpability. For more information, see Alaska's punitive damages cap statute, Alaska Stat. § 9.17.020 (2024).

Where and How to File an Alaska Personal Injury Lawsuit

Alaska law and court rules called the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure determine where and how to file your personal injury lawsuit. The court rules can be complicated and hard to understand. If you aren't familiar with them—and chances are you're not—the time to learn isn't while you're trying to handle your own personal injury case. Your best chance of success will come from having an Alaska lawyer file and handle the case for you.

File in the Correct Court

Most Alaska personal injury lawsuits will be filed in Alaska superior court or district court. If you're asking the court to award you less than $100,000 in damages, you file your case in the district court. But if you want $100,000 or more in compensation, the superior court is where you should file.

In most cases, you'll file your lawsuit in the court that's nearest to the place (in lawyer-speak, the "venue") where:

  • the accident happened, or
  • the defendant (the person you're suing) lives.

(Alaska R. Civ. Proc. 3(c) (2024).)

You can file in Alaska small claims court if:

  • your damages aren't greater than $10,000, and
  • all parties agree to use the small claims court.

How to Start Your Lawsuit

You start your Alaska personal injury lawsuit by filing a document called a "complaint." (Alaska R. Civ. Proc. 3(a) (2024).) The complaint must be accompanied by a cover sheet that you'll get from the clerk of the court.

In separate, numbered paragraphs, your complaint should describe:

  • the parties
  • when, where, and how the accident happened
  • your injuries
  • what you claim the defendant did wrong to cause your injuries, and
  • the relief (usually money damages) you want the court to award you.

Once you've filed the complaint, you'll need to "serve" (meaning to formally deliver, as provided by the court rules) each party you're suing with a copy of the complaint and a summons issued by the court clerk. If you don't serve an opposing party within 120 days after filing the complaint, the court can dismiss that party from your lawsuit.

Get Help With Your Alaska Personal Injury Case

We've covered some of the basic Alaska personal injury laws and court rules. If you've been hurt and you're thinking about an insurance claim or a lawsuit, there's much more you'll need to know. You can bet that your opponent will be represented by experienced counsel. To make it a fair fight, you should be, too.

When you're ready to move forward with your case, here's how to find a personal injury lawyer near you.

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