In accidents resulting in personal injury, at least one party is at fault. Most personal injury law requires the negligent party (the one at fault) to pay for the damages or injuries caused to the other party. However, North Carolina is one of the few states in the US that implements ‘contributory negligence’ in cases like this. Learn more about the North Carolina Negligence Law and how it can affect your case.
North Carolina Negligence Law
North Carolina is one of only five states in the US that practice contributory negligence in personal injury cases. It means that the state law bars anyone – even those who have sustained a personal injury – from receiving compensation in a lawsuit if it was determined that they partly contributed to the accident.
The four other states implementing this part of the law are Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Other states use a variation of the negligence model for similar cases. For example, the court will determine a specific percentage that the plaintiff contributed to the personal injury or accident. Then, the court will use that percentage to determine the plaintiff’s compensation.
In North Carolina, the implementation of contributory negligence is much harsher. Even if the plaintiff is only 10% responsible for the accident, they will be barred from recovering compensation. Therefore, anyone involved in an accident resulting in personal injury must consult an expert lawyer in North Carolina. The specific details of the law can be challenging to understand for anyone without extensive background or legal knowledge.
Causation in Personal Injury Cases
Causation is one of the most critical elements when bringing a personal injury case to court. It is one of the things you must prove if you have any shot at winning a claim.
The North Carolina law recognizes two types of causation: 1) cause in fact and 2) proximate cause.
Cause in fact is when the plaintiff’s injury would not have been sustained if it weren’t for the negligence of the defendant (at-fault party). For example, a driver who tried to beat the red light collided with another vehicle crossing the intersection, resulting in injury and damage to the latter’s car.
Proximate cause is when the injuries are a foreseeable effect of the defendant’s behavior. In this second causation, it becomes the plaintiff’s duty to demonstrate that the actions or conduct of the at-fault party directly resulted in the injury. For example, a customer with celiac disease dined at a restaurant and was served food containing gluten. The customer must prove that they informed the restaurant staff about their dietary restrictions. Otherwise, it will be difficult to verify that the actions of the restaurant staff directly contributed to their resulting health issue.
There will be a committee known as Finders of Fact that is responsible for evaluating the evidence presented. The goal is to determine what happened and who is responsible. It is typical when several conclusions can be inferred based on a series of events.
The Burden of Proof in making a causal connection in litigation bears on the plaintiff. There should be a direct link between the defendant’s action and the injury. Because of that, North Carolina law upholds that there is no such thing as an “accident.” Instead, some facts and circumstances surround a particular incident that resulted in injury.
Are There Exceptions to Contributory Negligence?
Knowing the North Carolina law on ‘contributory negligence’ for personal injury lawsuits, the next step is to know if there are exceptions to this regulation. The good news is, yes, there are exceptions to this rule. The intent of imposing these exceptions is to prevent the likelihood of excessively unjust rulings against the plaintiff or the injured victim.
One such example is the Gross Negligence Doctrine. Suppose the plaintiff can prove that the defendant willfully performed the actions or behavior resulting in the injury. In that case, the defendant cannot use the ‘contributory negligence’ claim. In layman’s terms, the injury results from the defendant’s failure to perform a ‘standard of care’ that would have prevented the incident from happening. Simply put, they recklessly disregarded concern for the welfare of others causing the injury.
Drunk driving is a typical example of the Gross Negligence Doctrine in a real-life scenario. Even if you are only 5 miles over the speed limit, if you were determined to be intoxicated by the time of the incident, the defendant cannot use the ‘contributory negligence’ argument in their defense.
Another exception to the North Carolina Negligence Law is the ‘Last Clear Chance Rule.’ It demonstrates the defendant’s failure to employ all of their capacity to prevent an accident or injury. The second exception is difficult to prove, but it can help your case if you have evidence. Again, a skilled personal injury lawyer can help you gather the evidence and use it to build a strategy for your case.