Who you can sue after a car accident: 7 possibilities under Alabama law

After a car accident, questions abound. How do I file an insurance claim? How will I get my car fixed? Who’s responsible for my medical bills? If you have serious accident injuries, you may also consider filing a lawsuit. If so, you might wonder, “Who can I sue for my car accident injuries?” This article will provide some insight into who you can sue after a car accident under Alabama law.

A quick note: While this article will provide helpful information, it does not list every possibility. Every car accident case and car accident injury is different. An experienced Birmingham car accident lawyer can help you determine the best parties to sue in your case based on the facts of your auto accident.

How Lawsuits Work

Before we get into who you can sue after a car accident, it will be helpful to learn a bit about how lawsuits work.

In a lawsuit, the injured person is called the plaintiff. The person who caused the plaintiff’s injuries is called the defendant.

The lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The complaint is a formal legal document that contains the plaintiff’s allegations about what happened on the day of the accident. The document must clearly state exactly how the plaintiff was injured and why the plaintiff believes the defendant was the cause of those injuries. The complaint also includes a demand – how much the plaintiff is asking for in damages. In an auto accident case, those damages will often include medical bills, lost wages, property damages, nursing home care, and other expenses.

With this in mind, we can now look at who the potential defendants might be in an Alabama personal injury case.

Potential Defendant #1 – The other driver or drivers

When considering who you can sue after a car accident, the obvious place to begin is with the other driver. If the other driver behaved negligently – by failing to signal, disobeying traffic signals, driving while distracted, or the like – they are the first logical defendant.

While the other driver is the obvious place to start, lawsuits against individual drivers can be difficult. First, you’ll file an insurance claim against the other driver’s insurance policy. If your injuries exceed the other driver’s insurance coverage, you’ll likely have to sue the driver for the additional damages. But if the driver has limited assets, filing a lawsuit may not be worth it. An experienced Alabama personal injury attorney can help you figure out the best way to proceed.

Potential Defendant #2 – The owner of the car

The driver might not be the only one responsible for your injuries. In certain circumstances, the car’s owner might also be a defendant in your personal injury suit.

If the person who hit you is driving a borrowed car, you would begin by filing a claim against the owner’s insurance. But if you decide to file a lawsuit, you might have more options. For example, if the owner let the driver borrow the vehicle when they knew the driver was not a competent driver – such as in a drunk driving case – you might have a claim for negligent entrustment against the car’s owner.

Also, if the driver who hit you was a teenager, you might be able to add the parents as defendants. Under Alabama accident law, parents are responsible for any property damage caused by a person under 18. This law applies only if the teen’s actions were “intentional, willful, or malicious” and the law limits recovery to $1000. But it is something helpful to consider in your personal injury case.

Potential Defendant #3 – The driver’s employer

Some drivers are running personal errands. Others are driving for a business. (Think about delivery trucks, moving trucks, and vehicles used in landscaping and other businesses.) If you were hit by someone driving a business vehicle, you should let your personal injury lawyer know immediately. The driver’s employer could be a defendant as well.

If you were hit by a company car, you can use a doctrine called “vicarious liability.”  This rule says that employers can be liable for the actions of their employees. If you can prove that there is an employer-employee relationship and that the accident occurred while the employee was working, the company that owns the car could be a defendant. When you have large medical bills, this rule really helps. Because companies usually have more money than individuals, vicarious liability usually increases your chances of receiving adequate compensation for your injuries.

Potential Defendant #4 – The rideshare company

Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are increasingly popular. If you are hit by one of these vehicles (or while riding in an Uber or Lyft), the rideshare company could be another defendant you can sue after your car accident.

The rules around rideshare companies are complex, but here are the basics: If an Uber driver causes an accident while driving a passenger, generally, Uber’s insurance will cover the damages. (The same applies if there isn’t a passenger but the Uber driver is logged in and waiting for a ride request or driving to the passenger’s location.)

Alabama law requires rideshare companies to carry $1 million in liability coverage. It’s likely that your medical bills won’t exceed this amount, but if they do and you file a lawsuit, Uber or Lyft could be defendants.

Potential Defendant #5 – The trucking company

The average semi-truck is roughly eight times longer than and more than 25 times heavier than the average car. As such, trucking accidents are among the most serious car accidents. Trucking accidents can produce skyrocketing medical bills. Luckily, your personal injury lawyer can use vicarious liability to make the trucker’s employer an additional defendant.

In addition to being responsible for their drivers, trucking companies can be defendants in their own right. A trucking company must ensure that its trucks receive proper maintenance, properly train its drivers, and follow safety rules about driver scheduling and workload. A trucking company that puts damaged trucks on the road, fails to train its drivers, or pushes its drivers to skip breaks or sleep to meet deadlines might be negligent. Your Alabama personal injury attorney can tell you more.

Potential Defendant #6 – The state, county, or city

States, cities, and counties operate all kinds of vehicles: school buses, fire trucks, and police cars are just a few. If you’re hit by one of these cars, who you can sue after an accident depends on many factors.

The road to a lawsuit is the most difficult when the car is owned by the state or driven by a state employee. Alabama’s constitution says that the state is immune from suits. In other words, normal citizens cannot sue the state. (This rule also blocks most suits against state employees acting in the course of their state-specified duties.) However, there are exceptions to this rule. An experienced Alabama personal injury attorney will know them, so consulting with an attorney is a must.

It’s a little easier to sue a city, county, or town. Unlike the state, these smaller governments lack constitutional protection. But you must act quickly. Unlike the two-year limit that usually applies in car accident cases, Alabama law gives plaintiffs just six months to file suit against a municipality. And because each municipality has its own rules for filing lawsuits, hiring a skilled Alabama personal injury lawyer is crucial.

One more thing: Driving isn’t the only way a government can become a defendant in your car accident case. Governments are also responsible for maintaining the roadways. The following conditions often cause car  accidents:

  •   Poor road conditions (unrepaired potholes, etc.)
  •   Malfunctioning traffic signals
  •   Missing or defective traffic signs
  •   Dangerous road or intersection design
  •   Faulty or inadequate lighting
  •   Missing or faded lane markings
  •   Poorly designed or maintained bridges
  •   Overgrown foliage (esp. when it covers safety signage)
  •   Fallen trees/utility poles, etc.

If one of these factors played a role in your accident, you might have another reason to add a government defendant. Your car accident lawyer will know the questions to ask.

Potential Defendant #7 – The car’s manufacturer

When an accident happens, the focus usually turns to the drivers. But the drivers are not always the cause. Sometimes, the fault lies with the car’s manufacturer. Defects that can lead to accidents include malfunctioning

  •   Brakes,
  •   Brake pads,
  •   Gas pedals,
  •   Airbags,
  •   Electrical systems,
  •   Steering components,
  •   Seats, and
  •   Axles.

If the failure of one of these features caused your accident, the car company might be a proper defendant.

More questions about who you can sue after a car accident?

Hopefully, this article has answered many of your questions about who you can sue after a car accident. However, you may have more questions. If you do, do not hesitate to contact Collins Law, LLC. April H. Collins is a Birmingham car accident lawyer who handles a variety of cases including car accidents, trucking accidents, and pedestrian accidents. She helps with a variety of legal issues – including wrongful death – and will work to get you a fair settlement. Call (205) 881-0403 or click here to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.