Hurt in a car wreck? Have a claim for your injuries? For most people, the rules and procedures are unfamiliar territory. Hopefully, a car crash injury is something you will never experience.
Each state has its own laws and rules related to car accidents. While most rules serve an important purpose, a few are unfair and unjust. Some of these unjust rules can unfairly harm your potential claim. Many of these unfair rules should have been changed long ago. Here are five bad rules that can unjustly harm your Alabama car crash claim:
I. Alabama Guest Passenger Statute
You are a passenger in a car. You are hurt in a wreck. If the driver of another vehicle was negligent, you can make a claim against them. If the driver of the vehicle in which you were a passenger is negligent, you may not be able to make a claim against him/her.
It’s called the Alabama Guest Passenger Statute. It bars you from making a negligence claim against a driver when you are a social passenger in the same vehicle. You can thank insurance lobbyists for convincing the legislatures in Alabama and many other states to pass these laws during the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, most states have repealed these unfair laws. Alabama has not.
If you are an injured passenger, your driver’s insurance company will typically deny your claim citing the Guest Passenger Statute. Don’t simply accept the denial. Call a lawyer with real experience in this area of the law. Exceptions exist. A good lawyer may be able to overcome the denial. For more information, here is a post I wrote titled Guest Passenger Statute in Alabama? Does it Affect my Personal Injury Claim?
II. Alabama Survival Statute
Consider this — Two people suffer identical injuries in separate accidents caused by another driver. Both are hurt. Both incur medical bills, lost wages and other damages. The first victim immediately files a lawsuit. The second victim waits. Both injury victims die from unrelated heart conditions. The Estate for the first victim can continue to pursue compensation for his losses because he filed a lawsuit prior to his death. The Estate for the second victim cannot file a lawsuit (because it was not filed before his death).
Is this fair or just? Why should one Estate be able to recover compensation when the other cannot? If an Estate cannot recover for these losses, it leaves less for the grieving family. Alabama’s Survival Statute creates an unfair and unjust result. I recently wrote an article advocating changes for this law titled It’s Time to Address Alabama’s Survival Statute.
III. Alabama Medical Reimbursement Evidence Statute
If seriously injured, your medical bills may be substantial. Who pays the bills? Here is an article I wrote on the topic. Some people have private health insurance like Blue Cross. Others have government benefits like Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare. Some have no health benefits at all.
Your health benefits play a huge role in a personal injury claim. When you seek medical care, the hospital or doctor bills you. If you have health insurance, the hospital or doctor often accepts a much lower payment. If you have no health coverage, the hospital or doctor often attempts to collect the full, inflated medical charges from you.
For years, Alabama followed a principle called the Collateral Source Rule that prevented defendants from introducing evidence a person’s health insurer satisfied a bill for less than the charges. This changed with Alabama Code Section 12-21-45. Now, the defendant can introduce evidence of medical reimbursements.
Why is this unfair? It penalizes people who pay for health coverage. It rewards people without coverage over those who have it.
It gets worse. Most health plans require you to reimburse medical costs from your settlement or judgment. You may have to pay them back if you win. So, a person with health coverage may recover less and pay back more. Here is some advice — A good car accident lawyer can help negotiate down the amount you must repay. You won’t get that help from most billboard lawyers. They will not work hard for their clients. We feel very strongly about working hard to reduce medical liens for our injured clients. This effort can greatly benefit injury victims.
IV. Alabama Contributory Negligence Doctrine
The legal doctrine of contributory negligence prevents an accident victim from recovering compensation if they were also at fault (even in the slightest degree). In other words, if you are even 1% at fault for the accident, you cannot recover your damages.
This is a harsh principle. In car wreck cases, defense lawyers may aggressively question accident victims to get the slightest admission they (perhaps) could have avoided the accident. In pedestrian cases, if the person is not in the crosswalk when hit, the court could conclude they were contributorily negligent and bar the claim. When a car strikes a pedestrian, the person is moved from where he or she was standing. In some cases, you can spend significant time and expense with experts trying to prove your client was standing in the crosswalk when struck.
Last time I checked, Alabama was one of only 4 states still following this principle. Most states have long since modified their law to follow principles of “comparative” negligence. Although different states follow different approaches, comparative systems generally allocate fault. You can recover the portion of your damages corresponding to the other person’s fault. Many comparative systems bar your claim once you reach a certain percentage of fault. Although it sounds complicated, these comparative systems prevent the injustice of allowing a defendant who is 99% at fault to escape responsibility.
V. Alabama Hospital Lien Statute
I’ve written a number of articles on this topic. Alabama has a statute (Section 35-11-370) giving hospitals a lien against accident victims for their medical charges. Hospital liens create huge issues in personal injury litigation. Naturally, the hospital will assert a lien for its full billed charges and not the actual (lesser) amount it would have accepted in all other situations from Medicare, Blue Cross or Medicaid. Where the at-fault driver has very small or limited liability insurance, the hospital lien can consume all available funds. I’ve seen plenty of cases where a hospital lien resulted in a huge issue for people in this scenario.
If you have a serious personal injury claim, take the time to find legal counsel with real experience handling these issues through trial. It can make a tremendous difference on the compensation you recover.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we specialize in personal injury cases. From our office in Huntsville, we represent clients across Alabama.