Contributory Negligence

North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule and its effect on recovery

If you are injured by someone else’s negligence, such as in a car accident, you most likely will suffer some degree of injury. With healthcare as expensive as it is, this can easily amount to thousands of dollars. Although you may think that you contributed to the accident (e.g. maybe you were speeding), you may think that you could recover your losses from the other driver’s insurance company, since he or she was the overwhelming cause of the car accident. In most states, this is true. However, this is not necessarily the case in North Carolina.

The reason for this is because North Carolina still follows an old rule called contributory negligence in its tort cases. This rule can affect a victim’s right of recovery in a wide variety of cases–everything from car accidents to slip-and-fall cases.

How contributory negligence works

Under the contributory negligence rule, a person who is seeking compensation for negligence or other torts is barred from recovering any damages if a jury finds that he or she is the slightest at fault for his or her injuries. This means that even if the plaintiff in the lawsuit is only one percent at fault for his or her injuries, he or she can recover nothing, even though the defendant was 99 percent responsible.

The contributory negligence rule does not operate in every case, as the defense has the burden of proving that the plaintiff’s conduct was a cause of his or her own injuries. If the defense cannot meet its burden, the rule does not apply.

Even if the defendant can show that the plaintiff caused his or her own injuries, this does not necessarily mean that the contributory negligence rule will apply, as there are defenses to the rule’s application. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant had the last chance to avoid the accident, the rule will not apply notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. In addition, if the plaintiff can show that the defendant’s negligent conduct was done willfully or purposely with a conscious disregard for the safety of others, the rule will not bar recovery.

Consult an attorney

As the contributory negligence rule often prevents those who are genuinely injured through little fault of their own to recover damages, the application of the rule often leads to harsh and unfair results. Because of this, many in the North Carolina legislature attempted to abolish the rule three years ago. However, their efforts were defeated by the lobbying efforts of the insurance industry, which is the largest proponent of the rule. As of now, there have been no further efforts to reform the rule.

Although North Carolina remains a contributory negligence state, you should not assume that recovery is not possible, if you are injured by someone else’s negligence. However, because of the rule, it is important to have the advice of an experienced personal injury every step of the way. Attorney Mark Melrose at Melrose Law can evaluate your claim and prepare a trial strategy that will maximize the likelihood of recovery. You only pay an attorney’s fee if you win.

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