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The Legal Elements Necessary for a Successful Negligence Claim in Alabama

Posted by Erik Fine | Aug 06, 2020 | 0 Comments

     We've all seen the hundreds of lawyer commercials on television about car crashes.   A smiling lawyer shouting that if  you've been in a car crash that wasn't your fault and as a result, you were injured, to call them right now.  I think everyone is sick and tired of those commercials.

    Let's suppose that you are driving west on U.S. Highway 280 and are approaching the intersection of County Road 43 in Shelby County.  You have the green light and are driving straight through the intersection at the posted speed limit of 55 MPH, driving safely and properly with your seatbelt snuggly in place.  The next thing you know, a car on your right runs the red light from Highway 43 and crashes into your car.  Your car starts spinning wildly out of control and comes to a rest in the eastbound lanes, narrowly missing oncoming traffic!  YOU HAVE JUST BEEN IN A CAR CRASH!  Your body is injured and your car is damaged....maybe even totaled! 

     Alabama State Troopers are called to the crash scene to investigate the crash and make a report.  Chelsea Fire and Recue Service responds to the crash location to begin to treat your injuries and then transport you with lights and sirens blaring to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.  Gill's Wrecker Service is dispatched to tow your car out of the roadway and carry it to their wrecker lot.  After you are discharged from the hospital, you call the telephone number that you saw on the television screen and speak to a call taker that gets all of your personal contact information and asks you the details of the crash.  The call taker tells you that a lawyer will soon be in touch with you...so you wait...and you wait...and you wait...unless you call ME.  When you call ME, your calling my cell phone and I AM THE PERSON WHO ANSWERS THE PHONE...NOT A CALL TAKER!

     So how does a lawyer analyze your car crash case?  The first thing a lawyer does is make sure that the crash was less than 2 years ago...that's the Statute of Limitations of a general negligence claim in Alabama.  The second thing the lawyer does is make sure that you (the caller who was involved in the crash) was in no way responsible for the crash.  Alabama is one of 4 states in the country with what is known as The Doctrine of Contributory Negligence.  The other states are Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.  The District of Columbia also uses the Doctrine of Contributory Negligence.  The Doctrine of Contributory Negligence is a legal principal that means if YOU...the plaintif...is 1% at fault for the crash you were involved in, you are NOT allowed to recover a penny!  Think of it as an "all or nothing" proposition...remember...you can't be a little pregnant!  You either ARE or YOU AREN'T.

     If each of those legal hurdles have been successfully cleared, the lawyer is now on to analyzing the facts of the crash and how they relate to the 4 elements necessary to successfully prove ( beyond a preponderance of the evidence ) a negligence case in court as required by Alabama Law.

ELEMENT #1:     DUTY

     "Did the person who caused the accident have a DUTY to do or not do something?"  The answer to that question is simple.  Yes, they had a DUTY to do something....they had a DUTY to stop at the red traffic signal.  Did the other driver have a DUTY to operate their vehicle safely and to obey all traffic laws?  Sure they did.  Or perhaps you could ask the question another way:  Did the other driver have a DUTY to not run the red light?  Absolutely!  Check that box...DUTY has been clearly established.

ELEMENT #2:     BREACH OF DUTY

     "Did the person who had a duty to do or not do something BREACH that duty?"  Well, duh!  Of course they BREACHED their duty...they ran the red light.  They broke the law.  They failed to obey the traffic code Title 32-5A-31/32 and ran the red light.  That is a textbook example of a BREACH OF DUTY.  Check that box...BREACH OF DUTY has been clearly established.

ELEMENT #3:     PROXIMATE CAUSATION

     This one element can sometimes be the most troublesome sticking point to a negligence case or claim.  Think of PROXIMATE CAUSATION like this:  "If not but for..."  What does that mean?  The lawyer asks himself..."was the running of the red light the PROXIMATE (immediate) CAUSE of the crash?"  Stated another way, "If not but for the other driver running the red light, would this crash have occurred?"  We all know that it is against the law to run a red light, right?  Alabama has codified (written out a law that states running a red light is a traffic offense) the offense of running a red light in the motor vehicle laws of Alabama, known as Title 32.  So if a person runs a red light and causes a crash because he ran the red light, a plaintiff's lawyer can proceed to pursue a negligence claim against the tortfeasor driver (the driver who did wrong and ran the red light) under what is known as Negligence per se.  Negligence per se is a legal doctrine that states that an act or action is considered to be negligent because it violates a law or regulation.  Once again...check that box.  PROXIMATE CAUSATION is clearly established.

ELEMENT #4:     DAMAGES

     "As a result of this car crash, proximately caused by the tortfeasor running the red light, has my client suffered DAMAGES?"  DAMAGES can be pain, injury, and suffering.  Lost wages from missing work due to the crash (lost income) and the damage caused to your vehicle, known as property damage, are also considered DAMAGES DAMAGES are the actual hospital bills incurred because of the crash.   Loss of Consortium is also deemed as DAMAGES.  That makes sense, doesn't it?  We've established that DAMAGES clearly exist.  Looks like we've got the makings of a successful general negligence case!

     The clock begins to tick the moment a car crash happens.  You need to have an experienced lawyer like me on your side immediately!  Call Patriot Law Firm, LLC at (205) 478-2498 and speak to DIRECTLY to an experienced lawyer...Erik Fine.  I am a previous law enforcement officer and a current certified and tested Traffic Accident Reconstructionist with almost 20 years of crash investigation experience. 

     I wrote a blog previously entitled, "Overview of a Personal Injury Car Crash Claim."  I think it would be an important blog to read in addition to this blog to further understand the working of a personal injury case. Read it here  https://www.patriotlawllc.com/overview-of-a-personal-injury-car-crash-claim

About the Author

Erik Fine

Attorney Erik D. Fine, A.A., B.S., J.D. Mr. Fine, an Alabama native, is a graduate of Mountain Brook Public Schools. He received an athletic scholarship to play baseball at Kansas City Kansas Community College from which he graduated with an Associates Degree in Law Enforcement in 1989. It was i...

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