If you sustain injuries because of a person or entity’s negligence in Alabama, you have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit in order to preserve your claim for your injuries. Known as statutes of limitations, these deadlines vary by state. To help you file your lawsuit in a timely manner, learn about Alabama’s statutes before contacting a legal professional.
Personal injury claims come in many forms, such as slip and fall accidents among other premise liability claims, vehicular accidents, nursing home abuse, construction site accidents and other workplace incidents, assault, and product liability. Most personal injury claims relate to negligence with the exception of assault and battery. Any physical harm that is deemed intentional is known as intentional tort in a court of law.
In Alabama, the standard statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years. The “clock” typically starts on the statute from the date of the incident, such as the day of the car accident.
The two-year deadline also applies to wrongful death cases. For example, if an individual dies from the injuries they sustain in a truck accident, the statute of limitations starts on the day of the incident resulting in death. Should the injured party or their surviving family members wish to file a lawsuit over vehicular damage, they have six years to do so as per Alabama Code section 6-2-34 (2021).
Exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations for injury claims
Generally, if a plaintiff files a personal injury claim in Alabama after the two-year statute of limitations has passed, their case will be dismissed by the court. However, there are exceptions where the court grants extensions, especially for minors.
If the plaintiff is a minor when he or she is injured, the statute is “tolled” (or extended) until he or she is 19 years old. From that day, he or she has two years to file a lawsuit or claim. If the child was under the age of four, however, the lawsuit must commence by the victim’s eighth birthday.
If the minor is found legally “insane,” incompetent, or incapacitated, the statute of limitations may also be extended. The new “clock” starts running when the victim turns 19 or is declared mentally sane. He or she then has two years to file a lawsuit or claim.
Other exceptions to the rules include:
- Claims against municipalities/cities/towns, which must be filed within six months of the date of the injury
- Claims against defendants who have died, which must be filed within six months of the beginning of the probate process
- Claims against the County, which must be filed within one year
- Product liability claims against an original seller, which must be filed within one year
- Injury claims related to contracts, which must be filed within six years
The state also grants exceptions to plaintiffs when the defendants are “absent,” or not residing in Alabama after their respective accidents. For example, say a driver runs a red light and hits another driver, causing the second individual to sustain injuries. The first driver leaves the state after the incident. The statute of limitations for this personal injury claim starts when the offending driver returns to Alabama as per Code of Alabama section 6-2-10.
What is the discovery rule?
Sometimes, a person’s injuries are immediately apparent, like a broken leg. In some cases, however, the injury may take time to fully reveal itself. If you were exposed to a toxic substance at work for years but did not know it, and only discovered that this was the root cause of your injury much later. Or perhaps you fell on a slippery floor and hit your head, but thought you were fine; a few days later you wake up with blurry vision and trouble keeping your balance, and you learn that you have a brain injury.
Normally, the clock starts running on the date of the incident which caused your injury. But if you did not discover your injury on the same date of the incident or accident (or exposure), or could not have reasonably been expected to discover an injury until later, then the statute of limitations may be extended based on the date you discovered you were, indeed, injured. However, it is not recommended that you rely on a discovery rule exception. Instead, it is always recommended to file suit prior to the expiration of two years.
Statute of limitations vs. a statute of repose
A statute of limitations, as we explained, is the timeline of when you can file a lawsuit. A statute of repose, on the other hand, is the hard stop for a lawsuit to move forward, regardless of any exceptions that may be allowed under law. In Alabama, courts generally throw out cases where 20 or more years have passed since the incident, but there are some exceptions. The statute of repose for claims involving construction defects, for example, is usually seven years from the date of completion of the project. In a product liability claim against an original seller, the statute of repose is 10 years.
Types of injuries from negligence or intentional tort
Unfortunately, it is possible for plaintiffs in these civil claims to sustain a wide variety of injuries, depending on the nature of their accidents. Among the most common injuries listed in such claims are:
- Spinal cord injuries, including paralysis
- Head trauma, such as skull fractures
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions and contusions
- Internal bleeding
- Cuts and lacerations
- Organ damage
- Burn injuries
- Loss of limbs
- Neck and back injuries
- Leg injuries
- Facial injuries
Damages in personal injury cases are typically labeled as “economic”’ and “non-economic.” Economic damages provide compensation for the monetary losses the plaintiff has experienced because of the accident, and can include emergency medical care, physical therapy, lost wages, occupational therapy, and disability. Non-economic damages refer to the psychological component of the accident, and can include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of life enjoyment, and mental anguish. If the plaintiff undergoes trauma counseling due to the mental anguish they have experienced, it will likely be listed as an economic damage.
If the injured party perishes because of the accident, their surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim. In Alabama, only punitive damages are recoverable for wrongful death.
Punitive damages, or damages meant to punish the defendant for gross wrongdoing, are typically reserved for intentional tort cases, since the defendant intentionally tried to harm the plaintiff. However, only punitive damages apply to wrongful death cases. Therefore, the legal focus must be placed upon the defendant’s conduct in causing the wrongful death.
If you were recently injured because of someone else’s negligence, speak with a Huntsville injury attorney from Martin & Helms as soon as possible. We can review your case in exhaustive detail to determine what your best options are. We have locations in Huntsville and Decatur, AL, providing clients throughout North Alabama with dedicated counsel and representation. Call our office or submit our contact form to schedule a consultation.
Choosing the right personal injury attorney is an important step in building a better future. You deserve a lawyer who works one-on-one with you, and who can develop a plan for you to move forward. When you choose Martin & Helms, you get Clay Martin and Tara Helms: experienced, compassionate counselors who put your best interests first. We invite you to read more about us.