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Alabama Governmental Cap Prevents Car Wreck Victims from Recovering Full Compensation

This article explores the intricacies of Alabama's governmental entity statutory damage cap and analyzes the impact of the cap on individuals injured in a car accident caused by state or local government employees. Due to the statutory cap, many car accident victims are left with substantial financial burdens and may never receive full compensation for their injuries.
Generally, a driver who causes injury to another individual is personally responsible for the other’s damages. A major exception to this rule arises when a negligent driver is acting in the scope of his employment. When this occurs, the at-fault driver’s employer may bear the ultimate responsibility for the victim’s injuries. This indirect form of liability, known in the legal field as vicarious liability or respondeat superior, holds employers responsible for their employees’ conduct performed within the scope of their job. Thus, when an individual is hurt in a car accident caused by a business’s employee, the injured driver is usually entitled to full compensation from the business.
r>Individuals injured by government employees may face a stricter set of rules. While the traditional doctrine of vicarious liability applies to governments and their employees, the amount of damages recoverable from the governmental entity for one’s bodily injuries or death is capped by statute. For single claims, an Alabama government entity is only liable for up to $100,000. If two or more persons are injured, their combined total recovery cannot exceed $300,000. The statute also limits recovery for property damage caused by the governmental entity to $100,000.

Many times, the Alabama governmental damage cap leaves injured individuals with significant expenses. A simple example highlights this problem. Mayor of town X drives a municipal car and is on his way to a town hall meeting. Mayor negligently runs a red light and crashes into Driver, causing an intersection accident. Driver’s leg is severely injured and later amputated, disabling Driver from continuing his career. Driver’s damages include medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost future income totaling $1 million. If Driver were injured by a business employee, such as a corporate commercial truck driver, Driver could recover his entire amount of damages from the corporation. However, since Mayor was a government official acting in the scope of his employment, Alabama’s statute limits Driver’s recovery to $100,000, a mere 10% of his actual damages.

Despite the statutory cap, individuals like Driver may be able to recover a portion of their remaining damages from other sources. For instance, every Alabama automobile insurance policy provides an insured with uninsured motorist benefits, unless specifically rejected by the policyholder. Depending on the terms of the policy, individuals left with damages due to the statutory cap may be eligible for UM benefits to offset the difference between the statutory ceiling and their actual damages.