What is Contributory Negligence in North Carolina?

WHAT IS CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE?

Determining who is legally at fault for a motor vehicle accident is sometimes easier said than done. If that accident happens in North Carolina it can become even more challenging due to North Carolina’s contributory negligence law.

North Carolina contributory negligence law prevents a plaintiff from recovering any damages in an accident if the plaintiff’s negligence is found to have contributed in any way to the accident.   Said another way, even if a plaintiff is only 1% at fault then they are prevented from making any recovery. 

Imagine you are taking your nightly walk. You are walking several feet off to the side of the road where there is no side walk when suddenly you are struck by a speeding car. You now have a broken leg. That night you were wearing an all-black outfit. Your choice to wear all black and walk after the sun has gone down may be argued by the insurance company to be contributory negligence.  Sadly, these facts prevented a victim’s recovery in a previous North Carolina case.

Obviously, this is a harsh outcome for injured victims and creates a legal issue that can be used as a sword by the defendant and their insurance company.  We’ve seen insurance companies, time and time again, use contributory negligence to deny seriously injured people the outcome they deserve.  Instead of being justly compensated for their injuries and to help with medical bills and other expenses, injured victims sometimes end up being forced to take a meager settlement or being saddled with the burden of medical debt related to their injuries.  That is the current state of the law in North Carolina.  It certainly does not put North Carolinians first.

But, there is hope on the horizon.  Recently, the Victims’ Fair Treatment Act was introduced to put an end to contributory negligence and to install comparative negligence in its place.

WHAT IS COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE?

The majority of states apply comparative negligence rather than contributory negligence.  Under a comparative negligence scheme, the jury divides liability between the plaintiff and defendant according to what they did or did not do to cause the accident. The plaintiff’s compensation is then adjusted according to their percentage of fault.  Most common would be 50/50 but in other cases it can be 0/100 or even 70/30.  If you were to be found 30% responsible by the judge or jury, then you would be awarded 70% of damages rather than the full 100% due to your 30% contribution.  For example, if total damages were deemed $50,000 you would receive $35,000.

PROPOSED NC LAW TO CHANGE CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE

The Victims’ Fair Treatment Act was introduced to change North Carolina to a comparative negligence state. A copy of the bill can be viewed here. This bill will help personal injury victims avoid being denied compensation they deserve and put an end to a law that has been used punitively by the insurance industry.

While some states apply slightly different version, 46 states have already implemented comparative negligence.  The victims of personal injury accidents in North Carolina deserve the same opportunity for fair compensation when someone else shares the responsibility for their injuries.

CONCLUSION

Contributory negligence is a law that puts insurance companies ahead of regular citizens in North Carolina.  Call your local legislative representative and ask them to align their vote on the Victims’ Fair Treatment Act with the interests of injured North Carolinians rather than insurance companies.  To learn more, please visit victimsfairtreatmentact.com.

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