MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - The Alabama Supreme Court has overruled one of its previous decisions, instead confirming that claims of wantonness are subject to the two-year statute of limitations found in state code.
However, the Court said in a 36-page ruling Friday that because it concluded it cannot apply its decision retroactively in Walker v. Capstone Building Corp., it affirmed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals. The appeals court reversed the summary judgment entered by the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court against the plaintiff, William Walker.
Walker filed an action against Capstone on July 10, 2007. The company, based in Birmingham, specializes in student housing construction, senior housing construction, luxury apartment and market rate apartment construction, according to its website.
Walker said Capstone was the general contractor on a construction job on which he had worked. He alleged that, on July 12, 2005, while working on the construction site, he stepped on a manhole cover, which flipped over, causing him to fall partially into the manhole and injuring him.
The man alleged that the company's failure to properly secure the manhole cover constituted negligence or wantonness.
At issue is whether the six-year limitations period provided in Alabama Code 1975, § 6-2-34(1), is applicable to Walker's claim.
Section 6-2-34(1) provides:
"The following must be commenced within six years: 'Actions for any trespass to person or liberty, such as false imprisonment or assault and battery.'"
If Walker's claim would not fall within the six-year limitations period provided in § 6-2-34(1), then, by default, it would fall within the two-year period provided by the catch-all provision of Alabama Code 1975, § 6-2-38(l), which states: "All actions for any injury to the person or rights of another not arising from contract and not specifically enumerated in this section must be brought within two years."
The Court of Civil Appeals had relied on the state high court's decision in McKenzie v. Killian. In McKenzie, the Court held that a tort claim based on allegations of wanton misconduct was subject to the six-year statute of limitations rather than the two-year statute.
Justice Glenn Murdock, who authored the Court's majority opinion, said the McKenzie decision "stands alone" as an "exception" to the long line of cases that addressed the same question and answered by deciding that the two-year limitations period was applicable.
"The reality, however, is that, until McKenzie, no decision of this Court ever applied the six-year statute of limitations of § 6-2-34(1) to a claim of wantonness, as that term is now understood," the Court wrote.
Walker's claims alleging wanton conduct, it said, do not arise out of contract and do not implicate another enumerated action within § 6-2-38. "Neither do they fall within the category of actions for 'trespass' to which § 6-2-34(1) makes a six-year limitations period applicable," the Court wrote.
The Court said it was required not to apply its ruling retroactively "so as to immediately cut off the claims of persons who have been wantonly injured within the last six years and who therefore have been entitled to rely upon the rule this Court announced in McKenzie."
Litigants whose causes of actions have accrued "on or before the date of this decision shall have two years from today's date to bring their action unless and to the extent that the time for filing their action under the six-year limitations period announced in McKenzie would expire sooner," the Court said.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.