When you’ve just been hurt, probably 95 percent of your attention is on finding ways to stop the pain and recover and get better. It’s highly unlikely that the first thing on your mind the first two weeks afterward has anything to do with holding an accountable party responsible for your situation. In fact, you might be more worried about what happens with work, how to pay your monthly bills coming due, and how to get the kids to school if that applies. Eventually, the thought will arrive about exactly how the accident or incident occurred and whether anyone is responsible for your situation if you did nothing wrong. That’s where the legal process in Alabama comes into play.
Alabama’s Approach to Personal Injury
State law in Alabama, like in other parts of the country, allows parties to file in civil court to hold another responsible when an injury or harm to the property could have been prevented. However, just because an accident happens doesn’t make the other party automatically responsible. The suing party, or plaintiff, has to prove that the defending party was the cause, there was a duty of care, negligence, or intentional action or failure to act caused harm, and the suing party was, in fact, harmed. When all of those elements are proven and the court agrees, then the defending party can be charged with damages.
Damages, however, also legal works of art in themselves. The common belief is that once found responsible, the defending party has 100 percent of the cost as well as penalties. Yes and no.
A Bit of Background on Legal Damages in Alabama
In criminal circumstances, damages are obtained by holding the defendant responsible for a crime and then giving them incarceration time as well as financial penalties. In a civil case, which is what a personal injury lawsuit in Alabama involves, there is no jail involved. Instead, defending parties found responsible have to pay financial payments that address loss as well as a punishing element to make sure the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
Right from the start, the suing party in Alabama has to list out what is being requested in damages. There is no second guessing when the case is concluded, and the defending party has lost. Instead, the plaintiff has to spell out, along with identifying the responsible party and stating what they did, the actual damages suffered (medical costs, property loss, loss of income, etc.) and the punitive damages (the emphasis made legally to prevent the same mistake happening again). The basis of damages comes from the evidence in the case, medical bills, the documentation of what was paid to repair things, and the amount of income an injured party didn’t earn due to not being able to work, thanks to the caused injury.
Technically speaking, damages listed in an initial court filing are detailed as follows in Alabama:
- Compensatory damages – All physical medical bills (not this doesn’t include mental health issues), lost income, lost ability to earn in the future, and property damage.
- Pain and suffering damage – These are the quantified costs associated with pain from injuries, emotional distress, mental health issues caused by the injury and related anxiety, and concern. This category breaks down further into physical pain, which can be ascertained medically, and emotional distress, typically evidenced by verified psychological issues starting and continuing since the injury or loss.
- Punitive damages – an amount determined need to punish the responsible party for not having behaved better or failing to perform an action that should have occurred. These damages are oftentimes applied where there is proof of fraud, intentional harm, malice, lack of concern or personal control, or extremely reckless. They are rarely applied where it is clear the case was an accident, and no ill intent was involved.
The Sky Is NotTthe Limit in Alabama
The state of Alabama also puts limits on legal damages. Most notably, punitive damages are capped at three times the value of the compensatory damages involved. So, for example, if the property loss is $10,000, the punitive damages claimed can’t be more than $30,000, no matter how badly the responsible party behaved. Further, punitive damages in Alabama are very uncommon. Unlike states like California, where their use is far more liberal, Alabama courts apply a very strict view on when punitive damages will be allowed. In short, the case needs to prove a solid argument that the responsible party was purposefully out of control and could have been easily prevented.
The amount of allowed damages awarded for personal injury in Alabama also varies, depending on the strength of the case and the amount of actual damages proven. One can claim extensive costs, but if the evidence doesn’t support the value claimed, the court will deny the damages asked for and provide a much lower amount based on what is present in the documentation submitted. The extent of the damage types makes a big difference as well. Clearly, injuries that are life-changing are going to have a more substantial impact than injuries that are serious but can be recovered from in a few months.
Legal Skill and Experience Count The Most in Personal Injury Cases
In short, there is no formula that dictates exactly what a personal injury case in Alabama will provide in terms of recovery. However, by utilizing the support and representation of an experienced personal injury attorney who knows the local court system and can navigate the court procedures as well as the case merits expertly, the likelihood of damages in a tort case increases. Remember, the goal of personal injury is to restore your life to where it was before the injury and ensure the same carelessness or negligence doesn’t happen again. Our legal team at Caldwell, Wenzel & Asthana has done the same for dozens of cases in Alabama, producing viable recovery for our clients in all types of injuries and accidents. Call us to schedule an initial consultation. You won’t be disappointed.