In 1987, Alabama passed laws intended to curb the high jury verdicts in medical malpractice cases. Those laws required a plaintiff to show by â€śclear and convincingâ€ť evidence that a defendant acted with â€śwantonâ€ť conduct for the recovery of punitive damages and limited the award of punitive damages to $250,000, limited the award of noneconomic damages to $400,000 and limited the award of damages in medical liability cases to $1 million. Almost immediately the new laws restricting recoverable damages were contested by trial lawyers, and in 1991 the caps on punitive and noneconomic damages were overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court on the grounds that limiting damage awards in healthcare liability actions violated the right to a jury trial and equal protection provisions of the state constitution. Five years later, the Alabama Supreme Court overturned the damage limits in wrongful death liability actions on identical grounds.
Tort reform efforts remained mostly stagnant following these defeats, until, in 2010, an influx of newly-elected â€śTea Party-typesâ€ť took office. These new legislatures showed a renewed enthusiasm for lawsuit reform and five new tort reform bills were quickly signed into law during the 2011 legislative session. These included reductions to the statute of repose in civil cases from 13 years to seven (similar to a statute of limitations in criminal cases); prohibited forum-shopping in wrongful death lawsuits; and changed the stateâ€™s expert witness rules to conform to stricter federal standards.
Tort reform aside, Alabama is a very physician-friendly state when it comes to medical malpractice claims. Around 90 percent of malpractice claims that reach trial are decided in favor of the defendant physician, and a recent study of claim data from the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) found that â€” between 2004 and 2014 â€” Alabamans received fewer payments per capita in medical liability cases than any other state. During that decade, there were only 169 medical malpractice payments per one million residents. By contrast, New York experienced 1,082 medical malpractice payments per one million residents during that same time period.