After a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other incident in which someone else's conduct caused you harm in Alabama, you could be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit. If so, it's crucial to understand and comply with the statute of limitations that applies to these types of cases. (A statute of limitations is a law that sets a strictly-enforced time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in civil court. Every state has these laws on the books.)
In this article, we'll explain how Alabama's personal injury statute of limitations works, why the filing deadline is so important, and a few situations in which the filing deadline might be extended.
The statute of limitations that will apply to your Alabama personal injury lawsuit can be found at Code of Alabama section 6-2-38, which sets a two-year deadline for the filing of any civil lawsuit seeking a civil remedy (damages) "for any injury to the person."
So, this two-year deadline applies to personal injury cases driven by the liability principle of "negligence" (which applies to claims filed after a car accident, slip and fall incident, and other mishaps) and intentional tort (such as civil lawsuits over an assault). And in most situations, the "clock" starts running on the date of the underlying accident.
If the two-year filing deadline has passed, but you try to bring your personal injury lawsuit to court anyway, the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will almost certainly point this out and ask the court to dismiss your case. And unless a rare exception entitles you to extra time (we'll discuss a few of these exceptions later), the court will grant the dismissal.
Alabama's personal injury statute of limitations is obviously crucial if you want to take your injury case to court by way of a formal lawsuit, but the statutory filing deadline is also pivotal to your position in personal injury settlement negotiations with the defendant and his or her insurance company. If you've allowed the two-year filing deadline to pass without getting your lawsuit filed, and the other side knows it, you'll have lost all your negotiating leverage. After all, "I'll see you in court" becomes an empty threat when that same court is no longer an option for your dispute.
Alabama has identified a number of different scenarios that might delay the running of the statute of limitations "clock," or pause the clock after it has started to run, effectively extending the filing deadline.
For example, if, at the time of an accident that could give rise to a lawsuit, the injured person is under the age of 19 or has been declared "insane," the injured person is considered to be under a "legal disability" in Alabama. And according to Code of Alabama section 6-2-8, once the period of disability ends -- the injured person turns 19 or is declared sane -- he or she will have two years to get a civil lawsuit filed against the person who caused the accident. But note that if more than 20 years have passed since the underlying accident, the filing deadline can't be extended any longer.
Another exception applies when the defendant (the person who is allegedly responsible for the plaintiff's injuries) "is absent from the state" of Alabama at any point after the underlying accident, before the lawsuit can be filed. In that situation, the period of absence probably won't be counted as part of the two-year filing period (the "clock" won't run during this time, in other words). (Code of Alabama section 6-2-10.)
If you have questions about how the Alabama statute of limitations applies to your personal injury case -- especially if the deadline is fast-approaching or has already passed -- it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney.