Laws can be complex and difficult to understand. Sometimes they make sense, and sometimes they do not. One confusing concept for a party that has been injured in Alabama is a legal theory called pure contributory negligence.
In Alabama an injured person can recover money for their injuries from the person that injured them if that person was negligent. A person is negligent when they owe another person a legal duty and they breach that duty and that breach causes an injury to another person. For instance, if John rolls through a stop sign and crashes into Bill, John is responsible for the injuries to Bill because John had a legal to duty to stop at the stop sign and check for traffic. The legal duty to stop for the stop sign was designed to protect people like Bill.
However, if Bill was driving 10 MPH over the speed limit and John can prove Bill’s speeding contributed at all to the crash, then Bill cannot make any claim against John for his injuries. Even if Bill was only 1% at fault for the crash, the rule of contributory negligence means that Bill cannot recover any of his damages from John. While this may not make sense, it is the law in Alabama.
The only legal defense to contributory negligence is if the at fault party was not merely negligent, but wanton in the conduct that cause an injury to another party. Alabama law defines wanton conduct as conduct which is carried on with a reckless or conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. In the example above, if John was driving drunk then his conduct may be regarded as wanton conduct. That wanton conduct would prevent him from using contributory negligence as a defense to keep Bill from being able to recover for his injuries even if Bill was speeding.
Recovering damages after an injury can be a difficult, confusing, and time consuming task. The adjusters or lawyers for the negligent party may not offer a fair payout or may deny any responsibility for the injury. Because of the logistical and legal issues involved when trying to recover damages for an injury it is best to contact an attorney as soon as possible after a negligent party injures you or a loved one.