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Alabama Tort Reform Bill Introduced into Committee

April 5, 2024 Firm News

On April 4, 2024, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee admitted a bill that would severely curtail the rights of injured people. This Alabama tort reform bill, designated SB 293, would alter current laws to further protect corporations and insurance companies.

We do not know whether the bill will become law. If the tort reform bill did pass, here is the summary of key changes we would see in 2025:

Alabama Tort Reform Bill to Cap Non-Economic Damages at $1 Million

The most concerning part of the tort reform bill is a cap of $1 million on non-economic damages. “Non-economic” damages include pain, suffering, mental anguish, permanent impairment, emotional distress, and any other harm that does not have a direct dollar value.

On the other hand, there would be no cap for economic damages. Economic damages include medical bills, future medical bills, and loss of income.

Under the proposed bill, a jury cannot be told about this cap at trial. If the jury’s verdict includes more than $1 million in non-economic damages, the judge would be required to reduce the verdict.

Prohibition on Claims For Negligent Training and Supervision

In almost every state, an injured person can sue a corporation for negligent training or supervision of ones of its employees if that employee causes someone harm.  Alabama’s tort reform bill would prohibit that option in most cases.

The proposed bill states that if a corporation concedes that its employee was on the job at the time of the incident, then any claim for negligent training or supervision is barred. This provision greatly benefits businesses who wouldn’t have to produce evidence showing their lack of oversight of their employees.

Damages for Medical Bills Reduced

Currently, if an accident victim does not have health insurance, the victim can claim the full amount of his medical debt as damages at trial. However, the Alabama tort reform bill would change that.  According to the bill, an uninsured victim would only be able to claim the Medicare reimburse rate of those medical bills. This would be roughly 20-25% of the actual debt.

In addition, when a plaintiff claims future medical bills as damages, those future medical bills cannot be offered as evidence.  Only the amount that the plaintiff’s health insurance would pay (along with out of pocket costs) can be claimed at trial.  If the plaintiff loses his health insurance after trial and cannot afford the necessary medical treatment, the plaintiff is not entitled to a new trial.

Alabama Tort Reform Bill Limits Expert Witness Testimony

In many personal injury cases, the law requires the plaintiff to prove elements of their cause of action through expert witness testimony.  The proposed Alabama tort reform bill would make it more difficult for an expert witness’s opinions to be admissible in trial.

In short, the expert witness would have to prove to the judge that his or her methods are reliable, that the opinions are based on sufficient data, and that the methods are reliably applied to the data.  A jury can only hear the expert opinions if the judge is satisfied about reliability. The jury would not get to make the determination as to whether the opinion is reliable.

Failure to Wear Seatbelt Considered a Defense

Currently, the failure of an injured person to wear a seatbelt cannot be used to defeat a personal injury claim.  The proposed Alabama tort reform bill would allow this evidence to be used for the defenses of assumption of the risk, failure to mitigate damages, and other affirmative defenses.  In other words, a jury would be entitled to find against the plaintiff completely if he does not wear a seatbelt and is in a car accident caused by the negligence of another driver.

Limitations on Personal Injury Lawyer Advertising

The proposed tort reform bill would also criminalize some forms of personal injury lawyer advertising about settlements and verdicts. Under the proposed bill, a personal injury lawyer can only advertise a settlement or verdict if that amount of money is actually received and paid to the client.

For example, in some cases, a jury’s verdict may exceed the total amount of insurance coverage available.  If there is a $500,000 verdict, but the plaintiff can only collect the maximum amount of insurance and that amount is less than $500,000, the personal injury lawyer could not announce the $500,000 verdict in any form of marketing other than the lawyer’s website. If the lawyer did, the lawyer could be convicted of a crime.