Contributory negligence can cause a whole lot of confusion in North Carolina. North Carolina is considered one of four states (the others being Maryland, Virginia, and Alabama), and the District of Columbia that observe this rule when determining the outcome of personal injury lawsuits.
In layman’s terms, contributory negligence refers to a defense that may be asserted whereby the defendant claims that the injured party (plaintiff) contributed to their injury through their own negligence.
In other words, under NC law, a negligent party who causes injury to others is liable for compensating those victims. However, if a sufferer’s own negligence contributed in any way to their injury (even as little as 1%), NC’s contributory negligence law may prevent the victim from recuperating any compensation. This is a devastating law that is often applied incorrectly by liability insurance adjusters. If there’s any suggestion of you having contributed in some way to an accident for which you are attempting an insurance claim, and if you haven’t done so already, we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced personal injury law firm asap.

Negligence and Contributory Negligence in NC

There are 4 requirements that an injury victim (plaintiff) must prove in order to receive compensation from the at-fault party (defendant) for their Negligence:

1. That the defendant breached (violated) a duty owed to the plaintiff; e.g., the defendant was speeding, failed to keep a proper look-out, failed to yield, or failed to act as would a reasonable person under similar circumstances…;
2. That the defendant’s breach of duty was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injuries;
3. That the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, i.e., that the defendant could have foreseen that his/her actions would result in injury; and,
4. That the plaintiff actually received an injury, usually in the form of physical injury to a person or to property, or mental suffering.
However, if the at-fault party’s negligence contributed to the injury by 99%, but the victim’s own negligence contributed to the accident as little as only 1%, the NC Contributory Negligence Rule will prevent the injured victim from receiving any compensation.

Exceptions to the Contributory Negligence Rule

1 – Last Clear Chance Doctrine
Limited circumstances exist in which contributory negligence may not prevent a victim from recovering damages. You must speak with a personal injury lawyer with experience rebutting North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence laws to determine how they might impact your own specific case. For example, under the “Last Clear Chance Doctrine,” if the negligent driver had the last clear chance to prevent the accident and failed to take that chance, the injured party’s claim for compensation can be revived, regardless of their own contributory negligence.
Cases that involve the last clear chance rule can be complex to resolve. They must be investigated by experienced personal injury attorneys who understand the law and the facts of the case. A good personal injury attorney will conduct a thorough investigation of the case by reviewing the accident report; talking to witnesses, the drivers, and investigating officer; visiting the crash scene and taking pictures, videos and measurements; and sometimes employing accident reconstruction experts as may be necessary. Again, hiring a personal injury law firm like Kellum Law Firm with over 40 years of experience handling car/truck/motorcycle and big truck accident cases is an essential step to proving your case and obtaining the compensation you need and deserve.

2 – Gross Negligence

A contributory negligence defense can also be defeated when the defendant’s conduct is wanton with conscious or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others, e.g. when the defendant causes an accident while drinking and driving or racing.