Partly at Fault in an Alabama Car Accident? Here’s What You Need to Know

 Car accidents are stressful experiences. Auto accidents cause financial stress and physical injuries – both of which rank among life’s most stressful events. Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than the physical and financial pain caused by car crashes and truck accidents is feeling that you were partly at fault for the accident. If you believe that you were partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, here are some things you should know.

What is “fault?”

Before we discuss what to do if you are partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, we should go over a few things about Alabama personal injury law. In Alabama, personal injury claims are usually based on negligence. Generally, a person behaves negligently in an auto accident when they fail to follow established rules or ignore risks or conditions that a normal, safe driver wouldn’t have. Running a red light is a classic example of negligence because the law says that drivers must stop. Similarly, choosing to text while driving creates a risk that a normal, safe driver wouldn’t take because all drivers should be well aware of the dangers of distracted driving.  

When personal injury lawyers talk about “fault” in car accidents, they usually mean that a driver behaved negligently and that the driver’s negligent actions also caused someone else to be injured. A successful negligence claim must prove both of these things. Negligence and causation can be complex topics, so it’s best to talk to a Birmingham personal injury attorney if you have questions.

How does personal injury law determine fault?  

States use two basic systems to determine fault in car accidents and other personal injury claims. Both systems rely on assigning a percentage of fault to each driver in the auto accident. This percentage says how negligent the driver was, or, put another way, how responsible the driver was for the car accident. The scale goes from zero percent (not at all at fault) to 100 percent (completely at fault). The judge or jury will decide on a percentage for each driver. (The accident attorneys will make arguments on both sides.) 

In comparative fault or comparative negligence states, the law compares each driver’s percentage of fault. If the injured person – also known as the plaintiff – is less than 50% responsible for the auto accident, they can still recover damages from the other driver or drivers. (Their recovery, however, will be reduced based on their percentage of fault.)  However, if the plaintiff’s responsibility is 51% or more, they cannot recover damages.

In contributory negligence states, the law also looks at each driver’s percentage of fault. However, if the court or jury finds that the plaintiff was even one percent responsible for the car crash, the law will not let the plaintiff recover. There is no reduction in recovery as there is no recovery to be had.

How does Alabama personal injury law determine fault?

If you were partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, you may face an uphill battle in your Alabama personal injury case.

Most states use comparative negligence or comparative fault systems. However, Alabama is one of the few states that still use the older contributory negligence rule. Alabama’s contributory negligence rule means that if you are partly at fault in an Alabama car accident – even one percent at fault – you may not be able to recover damages. So, if you ran a red light, sent a text while driving, or engaged in other behavior that could be considered negligent during the car accident, Alabama personal injury law may not let you recover money for your injuries. This rule applies even if the other driver was more negligent than you were.

Are there any exceptions to Alabama’s contributory negligence rule?  

As you can see, Alabama’s contributory negligence rule makes it very difficult to recover if you were partly at fault in an Alabama car accident. This rule may seem quite harsh. Luckily, Alabama car accident laws do have some exceptions. A Birmingham personal injury lawyer can help you determine if any exceptions to the contributory negligence rule apply in your auto accident case.

One exception to Alabama’s contributory negligence rule applies to those who the law says do not have the mental capacity to behave negligently. These include children under the age of 7 as well as those who have mental or intellectual disabilities. So, if the plaintiff was a 6-year-old child who rode their bike in the street, Alabama’s contributory negligence rule would not apply even if the child’s actions caused the accident.

Another exception applies when the other driver engaged in wanton behavior. Alabama law defines wanton behavior as “conduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Negligence occurs when a person should have known their behavior was unsafe. Wanton or reckless actions happen when a person knows for a fact that what they are doing could lead to a dangerous outcome. For example, texting while driving is usually negligent behavior. However, getting behind the wheel after drinking five drinks on an empty stomach and then speeding down the road while texting could likely be seen as reckless behavior. Even if your negligence made you partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, proving that the other driver was reckless could help you recover damages.

Alabama and the “Last clear chance” doctrine

Alabama personal injury law also allows plaintiffs to use the “last clear chance doctrine.” This doctrine allows a plaintiff to argue that even though they were negligent, the defendant was the driver that had the last opportunity to avoid the accident. (For example, the defendant had an opportunity to safely swerve to avoid the accident but did not do so.) The last clear chance doctrine can be very helpful to a driver who is partly at fault in an Alabama car accident. However, it is a complex doctrine with many moving parts. A Birmingham personal injury lawyer can help you determine if this doctrine applies in your case.

What should I do if I was partly at fault in an Alabama car accident?

In general, if you think you are partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, you should do the same things that any other driver should do after a car accident. First, you should avoid making any statements at the scene or to the insurance company which could be later used against you. Second, you should not make any statements about the accident on social media. Finally, you should take pictures, get witness names, and collect as much evidence about the accident scene as possible. This will help your Alabama car accident attorney develop the best arguments for your case.

Were you partly at fault in an Alabama car accident?

If you were partly at fault in an Alabama car accident, don’t despair. As you can see, getting recovery in these circumstances can be difficult, but it is not impossible if you have an experienced Alabama personal injury attorney at your side. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, trucking accident, or other accident, contact Collins Law, LLC. April H. Collins, a Birmingham personal injury lawyer, has helped many people throughout Alabama get the compensation they deserve after auto accidents. To find out how the Collins Law team can help you with wrongful death, pain and suffering, or other personal injury issues, click here or call (205) 881-0403 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.