Liability and Pure Contributory Negligence in Alabama

Laws regarding personal injury in Alabama can be complex. For example, a lot of people aren’t aware that in this state, the courts recognize a legal theory called pure contributory negligence.

We’re one of only four states, plus D.C., that recognize this theory, and it holds that if a person is found responsible on any level for his or her own injuries, the other at-fault party can’t be held liable – at all.

Personal injury attorneys in Montgomery recognize that this means the standard of proof for victims of negligence in Alabama is higher than for many other places, so it’s critical that you have experienced legal help from the outset.

In states that don’t adhere to the theory of pure contributory negligence, any finding of fault by the plaintiff reduces the overall amount of compensation awarded to the victim. But making a claim is still possible, at least for those less than half at fault.

While plaintiffs in Alabama face more of an uphill battle when it comes to apportionment of fault, those in other states still fight vigorously to prove they weren’t in any way liable. That was the case recently in Hall v. County of Lancaster, reviewed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

According to court records in this case, the catalyst for the lawsuit was a crash that occurred in 2009 between a school bus and a pickup. Neither vehicle was speeding on the 50-mile-per-hour road. Neither driver had been drinking. However, the intersection reportedly had limited visibility and was “blind” for both drivers. Planted corn obstructed the left-side view for the pickup truck driver and the right-side view of the bus driver. Further, a stop sign that was supposed to have been at the intersection facing the pickup truck was missing.

The pickup driver said he’d never been on that road before, and assumed vehicle traveling in the opposite direction had one, as he did not.

A traffic engineer would later conclude that by the time both drivers saw one another, it was too late for either to react in a way that could have prevented a collision. The pickup truck driver was seriously injured, while the bus driver and several children aboard were also hurt, though less seriously.

The pickup driver sued the county and the bus driver, alleging negligence by both parties had proximately caused his injuries. While the bus driver hadn’t been speeding, the truck driver alleged he was traveling too fast for the conditions and had failed to keep a proper lookout or maintain proper control of the vehicle. He alleged the county was negligent for failing to maintain a traffic control device. The county reportedly had no policy in place to inspect or determine the status of traffic signs and signals.

The county claimed immunity and filed a counterclaim against the plaintiff, alleging he had failed to yield the right-of-way or keep a proper lookout.

The court rejected the county’s claim for immunity, and at a bench trial, the district court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. However, he apportioned the plaintiff with part of the blame – 30 percent – though that was less than the driver of the school bus (50 percent) and the county (20 percent).

However, upon appeal, the state supreme court reversed this allocation of fault, finding that whatever negligence the county had was not a proximate cause of the crash. The case was remanded back to the lower court for a reallocation of liability between the drivers.

That could mean the truck driver can expect to receive less compensation. And may not be awarded anything if made to assume the county’s portion of blame and found to predominately to blame.

Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.

Additional Resources:
Hall v. County of Lancaster, April 18, 2014, Nebraska Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Fatal Montgomery Car Accident Prompts GM Ignition Switch Lawsuit, April 25, 2014, Montgomery Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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