How Contributory Negligence Works in Alabama
When someone gets injured as a result of another party’s negligence, they are usually entitled to monetary damages to cover their losses. In states like Alabama, however, things can get more complicated for plaintiffs because the state applies the “contributory negligence” legal standard. Only a handful of states still use this doctrine, and it definitely gives defendants an advantage in personal injury cases.
Under contributory negligence, a plaintiff can be barred from recovering damages if they are found to have “contributed” in any way to the underlying accident or event that caused their injury, even 1%. This makes it an uphill battle for those who have been injured because another party was negligent.
In order to be eligible for compensation in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff needs to be able to prove the following four elements:
- Duty: The defendant owed a duty of care during the situation in question. For example, all motorists have a duty to operate their vehicles in a safe manner and to abide by all traffic laws.
- Breach of Duty: The defendant breached their duty of care. For example, the motorist was looking down at his/her phone and sending a text at the time that the accident occurred, thus putting themselves and everyone else on the road at risk.
- Damages: The defendant’s negligent actions resulted in some type of economic damage or other losses to the plaintiff. For example, the plaintiff suffered an injury as a result of the vehicle crash.
- Causation: The plaintiff must show a causal link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the losses the plaintiff suffered. For example, if the plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), they would need to show that the injury was caused by the vehicle accident and not by something else.
In most states, if a plaintiff can prove these four elements, they are likely to recover damages. Most states apply some type of comparative negligence to personal injury claims, allowing plaintiffs to recover at least some level of compensation even if they share some of the fault. In Alabama, unfortunately, this is not the case. Even if the defendant was negligent, you can be sure that they will look for a way to pin at least some of the blame on the plaintiff so they can evade responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Consider the example of a driver who runs a red light and crashes into a vehicle that is crossing through the intersection while the light is green. In this situation, it might seem very clear that the driver who ran the red light is at fault and is responsible for damages. But phone records might show that the other driver was talking on their phone at the time of the crash.
This might compel the jury to assign a small amount of blame to the driver who was crossing with a green light, say 5%. And this could cause them to lose out on the compensation they should be entitled to.
If you are wondering if there are any exceptions to the harsh Alabama contributory negligence laws, there are a few:
- Children under the age of 14 are generally presumed to be incapable of being contributorily negligent.
- Children under the age of seven are deemed conclusively to be incapable of acting negligently because of their innocence and limited life experience.
- Individuals who are incompetent or mentally challenged are considered incapable of being negligent.
The Importance of Strong Legal Counsel in Alabama Personal Injury Cases
With such a high bar to clear, it is strongly recommended for personal injury victims in Alabama to get a skilled and knowledgeable attorney involved in their case as soon as possible. The other side will be at work immediately putting together their defense, and the sooner you get an attorney working for you, the better your chances of a successful outcome.
If you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury in Alabama, M. Adam Jones and Associates is here to help. We will meet with you to thoroughly assess your case and advise you of your legal rights and options. And if we do end up taking your case, we will not charge you any attorney fees unless we recover compensation on your behalf. Message us online or call our office today to get started. We look forward to serving you!