NC Contributory Negligence: How does North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Rule Affect Your Ability to Recover Due to Someone Else’s Negligence

By Jeremy Bradford
Founding Partner

When you are involved in an accident and have suffered injuries or property damage as a result, you probably want the other party to be held responsible for compensating you. But what if you also shared fault in causing the accident? How you will (or won’t) be compensated depends upon what rule of negligence your state adheres to. 

North Carolina is only one of four states, along with the District of Columbia, that adhere to the contributory negligence rule.  The others being Alabama, Maryland, and Virginia. All other states, but one, follow some form of the Comparative Fault Rule. South Dakota has a hybrid comparative and contributory system that is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Types of Negligence 

There are two main negligence rules that U.S. states follow:  

Comparative Fault

Most states have adopted the comparative negligence rule in order to determine damages in a personal injury lawsuit. Comparative negligence rules find that if you are partially to blame (or “at fault”)  for your own injuries (or “accident”), you can still recover damages but they must be reduced in proportion to your fault. For instance, if a court finds that you were 25% to blame for your injuries and you were awarded $100.00 for your injuries suffered, your award would be reduced by 25% (or a 1/4) less, so $75.00.

Some states follow what is considered a “pure” comparative fault doctrine, which says that you can always recover a portion of your damage so long as you weren’t entirely to blame. For example, if you suffered $100.00 in injuries and the court finds you to be 99% to blame for causing the accident, you can still recover 1% of your damages or $1.00. Other states that follow a basic comparative fault doctrine ban you completely from recovering damages if you are found to be more than 50% or 51% (depending on the state’s law)  at fault. For example, if you suffered $100.00 in injuries and the court finds you to be 51% or 52% (depending on the state’s law) or greater you cannot recover any portion of your damages.

It’s important to note that while the amount of fault you are assigned by the court is generally subjective, pre-existing similar cases are often consulted to determine the correct figure. 

Contributory Fault

The doctrine of contributory negligence says that if you were at fault whatsoever for your injury – even the smallest amount (i.e. 1% at fault or even 0.001%) – you cannot recover anything for your injuries. Only a few states still adhere to the doctrine of contributory negligence, but North Carolina is one of them. Even if you were severely injured you would be barred from recovering any compensation if you were found to be partially to blame. 

The North Carolina Supreme Court has explained the doctrine of contributory negligence by expressing that each of us has the ability to exercise ordinary care for our own safety in avoiding injury. Ordinary care is defined as “such care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances to avoid injury.” (See Clark v. Roberts, 263 N.C. 336, 139 S.E.2d 593 (1965) and Smith v. Fiber Controls Corp., 268 S.E.2d 504 (1980))

In North Carolina, many at-fault driver’s liability insurance companies attempt to use the law to their advantage. These insurance companies will deny your claims under the guise that you contributed to the accident in some way. 

How Insurance Companies Use Them as a Money-Saving Tactic and Why Legal Representation Matters in North Carolina

Since it is so easy for your claim to be denied on this basis, insurance companies utilize contributory negligence denials as a money-saving tactic. Insurance companies due primarily two things:

  1. collect premiums;
  2. pay claims.

The difference between these two numbers is what insurance companies call, “profit.”  In other words, insurance companies make money by collecting premiums and not paying claims. Year after year it is reported that insurance companies make record profits,  insurance companies accomplish this by increasing premiums and not paying claims.

Since insurance companies know that individuals without legal representation are not likely to file a lawsuit or pursue a denial based upon contributory negligence, it can be really helpful to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney before insurance companies make a liability decision.

Furthermore, it’s key that you understand that there are still ways around contributory negligence issues under North Carolina rules of law called “ameliorating doctrines.” For instance, if you are able to demonstrate that the at-fault driver still had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident, you can still recover – even if you had any blame for it.

The Attorneys at Bradford Law Help Those in Charlotte Who Have Been Injured in an Accident

If you have been injured in an accident, your first priority is getting the medical care you need to heal and get back on track. But you also deserve compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other harms and losses. That’s why it’s in your best interest to consult with a qualified North Carolina personal injury attorney.

At Bradford Law we will work tirelessly to hold the responsible party accountable and get you meaningful compensation. We have comprehensive knowledge of the applicable negligence and insurance laws and will put those laws to work for you. We understand the lasting impact a serious injury can have on you and your family and will make sure that all of your medical and financial needs are met. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
I am Jeremy Bradford, the founding and managing attorney of Bradford Law. From my offices in Charlotte, NC, I travel all across North Carolina helping injured people fight against insurance companies, in what could be life-altering circumstances. I have made a point to develop strong relationships with my clients. I take the trust my clients put in me personally and put myself into every case. If my client calls, my client will always be able to speak directly with me. You will get to know me as we work our way through the personal injury process. So when we make recommendations on whether to settle or go to trial, you will know your best interests are always at heart.