Contributory Negligence in North Carolina
Many car accident victims become confused when they learn about the concept of contributory negligence in North Carolina. They usually discover that their car accident claim is barred when the at-fault insurance company denies their claim on the basis of contributory negligence.
In North Carolina, people who allege negligence cannot file suit if they were even partially responsible for their damages. Many common-sense beliefs about car accidents and liability do not apply in North Carolina because of the state’s contributory negligence doctrine. One common situation is when a victim is injured when they are rear-ended at a stoplight. The victim was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. Common sense suggests that the driver who rear-ended the victim should “automatically” be held liable for the accident. However, the driver who was rear-ended will likely be barred from suing the other driver because their injuries partially resulted from their own negligence.
Should I Speak to an Insurance Adjuster After My Accident?
Contributory negligence in North Carolina is one of many good reasons not to speak to an insurance adjuster after your accident. The insurance adjuster will try to get you to say anything that indicates that your own actions contributed to your injuries. If you do, the insurance company can then assert a defense of contributory negligence and deny your claim.
This is why it’s important to speak to an attorney before agreeing to talk to the insurance adjusters. Insurance adjusters are professionals who have the experience and training to find any way they can to pay you as little as possible. You may unintentionally admit to something that gives the adjuster cause to deny your claim.
Are There Exceptions to Contributory Negligence?
There are two types of circumstances where contributory negligence in North Carolina does not apply, even if your actions did contribute to your injuries.
The first exception to the contributory negligence rule is when the at-fault driver’s actions were willful and wanton. The term gross negligence is often used interchangeably here. North Carolina courts have said that three actions constitute gross negligence:
- drunk driving
- driving at excessive speeds
- street racing
If the at-fault party was doing any of these things when the accident occurred, the insurance company cannot use a contributory negligence defense in your case unless you were also engaged in one of these three behaviors.
The other exception to the contributory negligence rule is the last clear chance doctrine. This happens when the injured party put themselves into a dangerous position through their own negligence and then could not escape. In these cases, the defendant had the last chance to avoid an accident but did not because of their own negligence.
One instance where this exception may apply is when a disabled pedestrian begins to cross a busy street and then cannot cross quickly enough to get to safety. A negligent driver may be driving too aggressively to avoid hitting the pedestrian. While the pedestrian’s own negligence contributed to her injuries, the driver had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.
What Can I Do If My Case Involved Contributory Negligence in North Carolina?
It is important to speak to a personal injury attorney even if the insurance company cited contributory negligence in denying your claim. If one of the exceptions to contributory negligence applies to your case, you may be able to recover compensation from the at-fault driver.
Our Asheville personal injury attorneys are ready to discuss your car accident case and your options moving forward. If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation, call or email our Asheville car accident law firm today to schedule a consultation.
For more information, read our blog post entitled: What are “punitive damages” and how can they affect my cases value?