Because our lawyers handle cases in different jurisdictions, I have a keen interest in average verdicts and settlements in different states. The dynamics of every state are different.
I found this data from the Alabama Jury Verdict Reporter providing average malpractice verdict data in Alabama for 2005:
|Statewide totals||Medical||Trials||Win-Loss %||Aggregate Verdicts||Plaintiff’s Average||Average|
|Statewide Adjusted Total (Less the largest result $14,500,000 Case No. 638)||141||42-99||29.8%||$49,325,318||$1,174,412||$349,824|
|Jefferson County only||43||14-29||32.6%||$18,775,299||$1,341,092||$436,634|
|State excluding Jefferson County||99||29-70||29.3%||$45,050,019||$1,553,448||$455,050|
|Death Verdicts Only||66||9-57||13.6%||$40,825,000||$4,536,111||$615,560|
|Non-Death Verdicts only||76||34-42||44.7%||$23,000,318||$676,479||$302,635|
So, essentially, the average medical malpractice lawsuit in Alabama that went to trial was $449,474 overall with the plaintiff’s winning 30.3% of trials. In trials won by Plaintiff, the average verdict was $1,484,309. (In case this is not clear, the former statistic includes in the average malpractice cases that were lost.
It is very interesting to learn that wrongful death medical malpractice plaintiffs prevailed in only 13.6% of cases and living (presumably unless they died of an unrelated cause before trial) medical malpractice plaintiffs won 44.7% of their cases. But medical malpractice lawyers in Alabama deciding whether to take on a case should note that the average plaintiff’s verdict in wrongful death malpractice cases in Alabama is $4,536,111.
Alabama Medical Malpractice Settlements and Verdicts
- $21,000,000 Verdict (2023 Alabama): Infant was born with with Hirschsprung’s Disease in the rectum, and subsequently died due to sepsis after presenting to an emergency room with signs and symptoms of colonic obstruction. The lawsuit contended that the emergency room nurses and doctors deviated from the standard of care in failing to timely diagnose and treat colonic obstruction and/or Hirschsprung’s Disease, failing to perform an adequate physical examination or diagnostic work-up of the infant, failing to order a barium enema, and negligently diagnosing him as suffering from simple constipation.
- $300,000 Settlement (2022 Alabama): The plaintiff, a female high school student, was supposed to have surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, but the defendant surgeon mistakenly performed the surgical procedure on his left knee instead. The right knee had been marked in pre-op but the left knee had been prepped for surgery. The case settled for $300k.
- $9,000,000 Verdict (2020 Alabama): A woman’s estate alleged that she died after three physicians failed to diagnose her pulmonary emboli. A month and a half before her death, she consulted a physician about birth control. She then underwent a test to determine her blood clot risk because of her mother’s medical history. The woman tested positive for Factor V Leiden, a gene mutation that put her at risk for blood clots. She was never informed of the results and was prescribed birth control pills about two weeks later. A month later, the woman presented to urgent care, complaining of shortness of breath, chest pain, a cough, headaches, and a sore throat. The urgent care physician diagnosed her with bronchitis and prescribed antibiotics. Two days later, the woman visited the same urgent care facility, complaining of shortness of breath and sharp chest pain. She came under the care of another physician, who failed to physically examine her. Instead, she underwent a complete blood count test, received leukocytosis and dyspnea, and was prescribed an inhaler. The woman died of a pulmonary embolism the following day. Her estate alleged that the physicians failed to chart her medical history, failed to perform a full physical examination, failed to diagnose her with pulmonary emboli, and failed to assess her pulmonary emboli risk. The jury ruled in favor of the estate and awarded a $9,000,000 verdict.
- 2$30,000,000 Verdict (2019 Alabama): A 24-year-old man’s estate alleged that he died in the emergency room while waiting for a surgeon. He was brought to the emergency room after having sustained a gunshot wound to his back. The on-call trauma surgeon was notified of the man’s condition before he arrived. Upon his arrival, the surgeon was paged to go to the emergency room. He responded that he was in the middle of surgery and told the ER physician to page another surgeon. No other surgeons were available, and he was paged again. The surgeon responded that he had just begun another surgery. Upon being paged again, he directed the ER physician to transfer to another hospital because his injuries were too severe to treat at the hospital. The surgeon then notified the emergency room staff that he would come to the ER for a surgical consultation. However, he never arrived, and the man died ten minutes later. His estate sued the trauma surgeon and the hospital for failing to timely diagnose and treat the man’s condition and falling to order an immediate surgical procedure. The Tuscaloosa County jury ruled in favor of the estate and awarded $30,000,000 in punitive damages.
- $11,000,000 Settlement (2019 Alabama): A 60-year-old tugboat’s deckhand alleged he had several parts of his body amputated after an urgent care facility in Jacksonville, Florida mismanaged his care. His employer sent him to the facility to treat his chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. He underwent a chest X-ray. However, before the imaging could be interpreted, the man was diagnosed with bronchitis and was prescribed azithromycin. Within hours, he returned to the facility after they contacted him. They informed him that he had pneumonia, not bronchitis. The facility staff also told him to continue taking his azithromycin. They also permitted him to fly home to Alabama. During the flight, he went into septic shock and collapsed. Shortly after landing, an ambulance brought him to the hospital. The hospital staff gave him several different kinds of antibiotics. Within several days, his fingers and toes developed gangrene. Weeks later, he underwent five operations to amputate parts of his right foot, his left leg, and his fingers. After being hospitalized for two months, he was admitted to a rehabilitation facility where he received inpatient treatment for two additional months. He eventually was fitted with a prosthetic left leg and right foot. The man sued his employer, alleging that, under maritime law, maritime employers were liable for the malpractice of the medical facilities they choose to treat their employees. He also alleged that the urgent care facility misdiagnosed his pneumonia and failed to consider his pre-existing arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). The man claimed that they prescribed him the wrong antibiotic and wrongly permitted him to fly. This case settled for $11,000,000.
- $250,000 Verdict (2018 Alabama): A woman’s estate alleged that she died after the cardiac surgeon mismanaged her thoracotomy. They claimed that the surgeon negligently inserted the thoracoport trocar into her heart, which caused her to bleed to death. The estate filed a wrongful death claim against the surgeon less than two years after her death. They also filed an amended complaint against the surgeon’s employer. The surgeon was eventually dismissed from the case with prejudice and the case went to trial against his employer. A Montgomery County jury awarded the estate a $250,000 verdict.
Alabama Medical Malpractice Laws
Below is a general overview of Alabama’s medical malpractice laws.
Alabama 2-Year Statute of Limitations in Medical Malpractice Cases
In Alabama, medical malpractice cases are subject to a 2-year statute of limitations. This means that prospective plaintiffs in personal injury cases must file their lawsuit within 2 years of the date that the injury or accident occurred. If the lawsuit is not file within the two-year period the plaintiff loses their right to file suit. Ala. Code § 6-2-38
There are many exceptions that can extend the 2-year limitations period. For example, if the plaintiff is a minor (under age 18) when the injury occurs, the 2-year SOL period does not begin to run until they turn 18. So minors have until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit. There are many other exceptions that may apply, so you should consult a lawyer about the applicability of Alabama’s statute of limitations to your case.
Alabama’s Contributory Negligence Rule
In shared fault cases (where the plaintiff is partly to blame for their injury) Alabama is among the small minority of states that continue to follow the old tort law rule of contributory negligence. Most states follow the modern rule called comparative negligence, under which the plaintiff’s damages are simply reduced by their percentage share of fault (i.e., if the plaintiff is 10% at-fault their damages are reduced by 10%).
Under Alabama’s contributory negligence rule, however, if a plaintiff is found to have any share of fault for the injuries, they will be completely barred from recovering any damages at all. So even if the defendant is 98% at-fault and the plaintiff is just 2% at-fault, the plaintiff would be completely barred from recovering damages.
Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim in Alabama
To successfully bring a medical malpractice claim in Alabama, a plaintiff must establish the following four elements
- Duty: The healthcare provider owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
- Breach: The healthcare provider breached that duty by failing to provide the appropriate standard of care.
- Causation: The healthcare provider’s breach of duty directly caused the plaintiff’s injury.
- Damages: The plaintiff suffered harm or injury as a result of the healthcare provider’s breach of duty.
Qualifications of Expert Witnesses in Alabama Malpractice Lawsuits
Alabama law sets forth specific requirements for expert witnesses in medical malpractice cases. When someone sues a healthcare provider for causing harm, injury, or death due to not providing proper care, the plaintiff must prove that the healthcare provider didn’t provide the same level of care, skill, and attention that other similar healthcare providers would in the same situation.
The expert does not need to be a certified specialist or if they have these qualifications:
- Holds a license from a state regulatory board or agency.
- Has training and experience in the same field or type of practice.
- Has practiced in that field or type of practice within the year before the alleged mistake happened.
But if the defendant healthcare provider is certified in a specific specialty and was practicing that specialty when the alleged mistake occurred, Alabama raises the bar further. A healthcare provider can only testify as an expert witness if they are certified in the same specialty by the same American board.
Malpractice Insurance Discovery
Like every other state, the malpractice defendants’ insurance limits – or the fact that the healthcare provider even has insurance – is not admissible at trial. Alabama takes it a step further and says that insurance is not even discoverable. So Alabama malpractice lawyers may have no idea of how much insurance coverage is available.
No Damages Cap
Alabama does not have a cap on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. The Alabama legislature previously passed a law attempting to impose a maximum limit on damages in medical malpractice cases, but the Supreme Court of Alabama declared that the law violated the state constitution and invalidated it.