Alabama Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn about Alabama’s personal injury shared fault rules, damage caps, statutes of limitations, and more.

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

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 (PI) 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, starting with Alabama's personal injury lawsuit filing deadlines. We also cover where and how you file a PI lawsuit, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, special rules that apply to claims against the government, and more.

What is Alabama's Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits?

A statute of limitations is a law that puts a deadline on your time to file a lawsuit in court. Alabama has several that apply to PI cases. We start with the state's two-year general rule.

Alabama's Personal Injury General Rule: Two Years From the Date of Injury

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) (2024).) The two-year clock normally begins running on the date you were injured.

This two-year limitation period also applies to cases involving:

  • injuries causing death, known as a "wrongful death" suit (Ala. Code § 6-2-38(a) (2024))
  • libel or slander (also called "defamation") (Ala. Code § 6-2-38(k) (2024)), and
  • a personal injury claim against an employer for the wrongdoing of an employee. (Ala. Code § 6-2-38(n) (2024).)

What Happens When You Don't Know You've Been Injured?

In most cases, you know you're injured when it happens. But that's not always so. What if you don't discover an injury right away? Starting the limitation clock on the day you're injured might penalize you by taking away your right to seek compensation (what the law calls "damages") for an injury you never even knew you had.

In that situation, Alabama's "discovery rule" gives you more time to file. The discovery rule might apply if:

  • you didn't know you were injured when it happened, and
  • you couldn't have discovered the injury, even if you diligently looked for signs and symptoms.

When the discovery rule applies—and importantly, it doesn't apply in all PI cases—the limitation clock won't begin running on the date you're injured. Instead, the deadline runs from the time you discover your injury, or you should have discovered it had you been reasonably careful.

If you're hoping the discovery rule gives you more time to file your lawsuit, expect the defendant (the party you're suing) to put up a vigorous fight. That's a battle you don't want to face on your own. You'll need experienced legal counsel to make your arguments to the court.

Other Personal Injury Statutes of Limitations

Alabama's two-year statute of limitations isn't a one-size-fits-all rule. Different statutes of limitations apply in particular cases. Here are some examples.

Dangerous products. As a general rule, you have one year from the date you were injured to sue the original seller of a dangerous or defective product. The discovery rule, discussed above, might apply if your injury developed gradually over time, and not because of a traumatic event.

If the discovery rule applies, another rule called a "statute of repose" limits the time you have to discover your injury. You can't sue more than 10 years after the date the product was first put to use.

(Ala. Code § 6-5-502 (2024).)

Medical malpractice. As a general rule, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice lawsuits is two years from the date of the malpractice. Here too, the discovery rule might apply. A statute of repose bars you from filing your lawsuit more than four years after the malpractice happened. (Ala. Code § 6-5-482(a) (2024).)

Intentional misconduct. When a person intentionally harms you, the law calls it an "intentional tort." Alabama law puts a six-year deadline on lawsuits for the intentional torts of assault and battery and false imprisonment.

Extending the Filing Deadline

In some circumstances, Alabama extends the lawsuit deadline, giving you more time to file your case. Here are a couple of examples.

Legal disabilities. Alabama considers those younger than 19 and persons who are "insane" to be legally disabled. This means they're incapable of handling their own legal affairs, like filing a lawsuit. When a legally disabled person is injured, the limitation clock doesn't start running until the disability ends. (Ala. Code § 6-2-8(a) (2024).)

Defendant is absent from Alabama. The statute of limitations doesn't run when the defendant leaves Alabama. (Ala. Code § 6-2-10 (2024).) Once the defendant returns to the state, the clock starts (or resumes) running.

When You're Partly to Blame for the Accident

In most states, if you're partly at fault for the accident that caused your injuries, your share of the blame simply reduces the amount of damages you can collect. Unfortunately, Alabama follows a much different rule: Any negligence on your part destroys your claim, completely. Here's how it works.

Alabama Is a Contributory Negligence State

Alabama still follows the old, 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 negligence or how badly you were hurt.

For example, say you were seriously injured in a car accident. Your total damages are $500,000. You file a lawsuit. The jury decides that the defendant was 99% responsible for the accident. But because you were driving five miles per hour over the speed limit, the jurors find 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.

Be Prepared for a Contributory Negligence Defense

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 only to gain leverage for settlement negotiations. If that happens, give serious thought to hiring an experienced PI lawyer to represent you.

Does Alabama Limit Personal Injury Damages?

Yes, but not as severely as many other states. Alabama personal injury damages fall into two general categories:

  • compensatory damages, and
  • punitive damages.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages include both "economic" (also called "special") damages, and "noneconomic" (also called "general") damages. Economic damages are meant to reimburse you for out-of-pocket expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, and amounts you pay for replacement household services. Noneconomic damages compensate you for injuries that don't directly cost you out of pocket—things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disfigurement.

With the following exceptions, Alabama law doesn't limit (or "cap") compensatory damages.

Damages against the government. If a city, town, or county is responsible for personal injuries or wrongful death, the government's total damage liability—including compensatory damages—is capped at $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. (Ala. Code § 11-93-2 (2024).) There are no exceptions.

Wrongful death cases. 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 (discussed below).

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages don't compensate you for your losses. Instead, they're meant to punish a wrongdoer for extreme or outrageous misconduct, 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) (2024).) To meet 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 for physical injuries at the greater of:

  • three times the amount of your compensatory damages, or
  • $1,500,000.

(Ala. Code § 6-11-21(d) (2024).)

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. This cap doesn't apply in cases involving intentional injuries or wrongful death. (Ala. Code § 6-11-21(b) (2024).)

Where and How to File an Alabama Personal Injury Lawsuit

Your lawyer will take care of preparing and filing your lawsuit in court. Here's a quick overview of what's involved.

To begin a typical Alabama personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit, you file a document called a "complaint" in the proper Alabama circuit court. Your complaint must be accompanied by a civil cover sheet. You can usually file your case in the circuit court where the accident happened or where the defendant lives, though different rules might apply.

Your complaint should describe, in separately numbered paragraphs, the parties involved, when, where, and how you were injured, your injuries, and what you claim the defendant did wrong to cause your injuries. You must also demand judgment for the relief (usually damages) you want the court to award you.

Once you've filed your complaint with the court, your lawyer will have it "served"—formally delivered, along with a summons—on each defendant. If the complaint isn't served on a defendant within 120 days after filing, that defendant can ask the court to dismiss them from the lawsuit.

Special Rules for Claims Against Municipalities and Counties

Alabama requires that you give written 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.

You must provide the government with written notice of your claim, using forms and procedures the local government specifies, before you're allowed to file a lawsuit. What happens if you fail to provide notice as required by law? You lose the right to sue the government for your injuries.

Don't try to tackle a government claim on your own. An experienced lawyer will know what pre-filing notice and other requirements apply to your claim.

(Learn more about personal injury claims against the government in Alabama and the federal government.)

Claims Against Cities and Towns

When your claim is against a city or a town, Ala. Code § 11-47-23 (2024) 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 (2024)—says that in the case of a personal injury or wrongful death claim against a municipality, a sworn statement must be filed with the municipal clerk describing:

  • how the injury happened
  • the date, time, and place where the injury happened, and
  • the damages being claimed.

Claims Against Counties

If your personal injury or wrongful death case is against an Alabama county, you must present your itemized claim to the county within 12 months, usually from the date of the injury or death. (Ala. Code § 11-12-8 (2024).) There are exceptions for minor children and people suffering from mental disabilities, who have 12 months after reaching adulthood or removal of the disability to present their claim.

What's Next?

Alabama law isn't friendly to personal injury claimants. Potential traps and complications exist at almost every turn. A mistake can prove quite costly. For example, if you miss the statute of limitations deadline to file your case in court, then absent a rule giving you more time, you lose the right to collect compensation for your injuries.

If you want to file 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.

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