Each state has their own set of medical malpractice laws in place, and it is important for patients to understand those laws and how they could affect their case. The following are the basics of the laws in Alabama.
Alabama Medical Malpractice Laws – The Statute of Limitations
In Alabama, patients will need to file a claim against the medical professionals or facility they allege caused their injury within two years of the malpractice unless the cause is not found in the two-year period. In those cases, it is possible to file a claim within half a year (six months) of the discovery or of learning any relevant information that would lead to the discovery of the injury. In cases of wrongful death, claims need to be filed within two years of that death.
Contributory Negligence and Contribution
In Alabama, they utilize the “pure doctrine of contributory negligence”. This means that if the plaintiff is found to be at fault for his or her injury at all, they will not be able to receive damages in the case. Even if the patient is only 1% at fault for the injury, the courts will simply dismiss the case, leaving the patient with no recourse.
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In Alabama, they do not hold a hospital vicariously liable for the negligence and malpractice of doctors that are not employed by the hospital. However, it could be possible to hold those hospitals accountable under corporate liability.
Joint and Several Liability
In cases where there are two or more entities that are to blame for the patient’s injury, they are jointly and severally liable for the injury and will be included in the judgment.
For the case to go forward, the plaintiff needs to have expert medical witnesses that can provide testimony to the level of skill or care that they should have been able to offer the patient. The only time that a medical expert witness is not needed is in those instances where an object was left in the patient, or when an injury occurred to an area on the body, the doctor was not treating at the time.
What Is the Damage, Cap?
While there was a damage cap passed by the Alabama Supreme Court in 1987, they declared that it was not constitutional. However, it has not been repealed, and the amount that the total damages that can be awarded is at $400,000. This includes noneconomic damages and punitive damages. The damages for wrongful death, which has also been found unconstitutional, had a $1 million limit when established in 1987 with provisions in place to increase it annually to account for inflation. The wrongful death damages in Alabama are assessed jointly and severally against all of the defendants.
Alabama has several different statutes in place for periodic payments. One that’s specific for medical malpractice requires that the jury separates the past and future damages. Payments will terminate on the death of the patient, except for lost wages. Those payments will continue for life and will be paid to a spouse as long as he or she is not married, or to minor children of the deceased.
These are the fundamental laws and rules in place for medical malpractice in Alabama. Patients who feel they have a case should always consult with their attorney to learn more about how the process will work for them.