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How Fault Is Determined in North Carolina

By Jeremy Bradford
Founding Partner

Imagine you’re driving home on a rainy evening when suddenly, a car swerves into your lane, causing a collision. You’re shaken, but thankfully not seriously hurt. Now, you’re faced with the complex task of figuring out who is at fault for the accident. This scenario is all too common, and understanding how fault is determined in such situations is crucial. In this blog, we’ll explore the intricacies of fault determination in North Carolina, guiding you through the legal landscape to better understand your rights and responsibilities.

Understanding Fault in North Carolina

In North Carolina, determining fault in personal injury cases hinges on understanding the legal concept of negligence. Negligence occurs when someone fails to exercise the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances, leading to an accident or injury. Negligence can  stem from both a person’s actions or omissions, and multiple parties may share liability for an injury. These concepts are pivotal in deciding who bears the liability for an incident. The prevailing rules of negligence in the U.S states: 1.) Comparative; and 2) Contributory. An in depth discussion of the two exceeds the scope of this article. For more detailed information, you can explore my blog post titled “NC Contributory Negligence: How Does North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Rule Affect Your Ability to Recover Due to Someone Else’s Negligence.” Unlike some states that follow comparative negligence, North Carolina adheres to the stringent doctrine of contributory negligence. This means if you are even slightly at fault for an accident, it could significantly impact your ability to recover damages. There have been numerous attempts over the years to switch North Carolina’s fault system from contributory to comparative; however, none of these attempts have succeeded. Anyone involved in an accident needs to grasp these nuances, as they play a critical role in the outcome of personal injury claims. 

Key Factors in Determining Fault

  • Evidence in Accidents: The first step in determining fault is gathering evidence from the accident scene. This includes police reports, which provide an official account of the incident, photographs of the scene, and any available surveillance footage. Witness statements also play a crucial role, as they offer unbiased perspectives on how the accident occurred.
  • Negligence and its Impact: To establish fault, it must be proven that the other party acted negligently. This involves showing that they breached a duty of care, such as running a red light or driving under the influence, which directly caused the accident and resulting injuries. Understanding the finding of negligence is key to determining liability.
  • Role of Insurance Companies: Insurance companies are often involved in the fault determination process. They conduct their own investigations, reviewing evidence and statements to assess their client’s liability. However, it’s important to remember that insurance adjusters aim to minimize payouts, so their findings may not always align with an unbiased assessment of fault, and these findings are not legally binding.
  • North Carolina Laws and Precedents: North Carolina’s specific laws and legal precedents play a pivotal role in fault determination. The state’s strict contributory negligence law can bar recovery if the injured party is found to be even partially at fault. This fault system requires proving that the defendant’s negligence was the sole cause of the injury without any contribution from the Plaintiff.  However, there are some instances where contributory negligence does not bar a recovery. These exceptions include cases involving minors, instances of gross negligence, mental incapacity, and situations where the “last clear chance” rule applies. The application of these exceptions is nuanced, and applicability isn’t always straightforward. Familiarity with state laws and previous court rulings is essential for accurately determining fault in any personal injury case.

Fault and Your Personal Injury Claim

In North Carolina, the determination of fault directly influences the potential compensation you can receive in a personal injury claim. As noted above, under the state’s stringent contributory negligence rules, even a slight degree of fault on your part could prevent you from recovering any damages. This emphasizes the importance of accurately establishing fault – it’s not just a legal technicality, but a critical factor in securing fair compensation for your injuries and losses. Given these complexities, having skilled legal representation is essential. An experienced personal injury attorney can effectively investigate the issues of negligence and liability, thereby enhancing your chances of a favorable outcome in your claim.

Contact Bradford Law for Help with Your Personal Injury Claim

At Bradford Law, we are experienced in navigating the complexities of personal injury cases in North Carolina. Our team is adept at thoroughly investigating incidents, ensuring that all aspects of negligence and fault are carefully examined. We are committed to advocating for your rights, striving to secure the maximum compensation you deserve. If you’re dealing with the aftermath of an accident, don’t face this challenge alone. Contact Bradford Law today for a consultation, and let us help you take the first step towards a fair resolution.

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.