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What is Contributory Negligence?

In the context of injury claims, North Carolina is one of only four states, along with the District of Columbia, that has the defense of contributory negligence  in place. Essentially, the law says that if you are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence (fault), and you also contributed to the harm you suffered, then you are not allowed to recover anything from the negligent person. Even if you are only 1% at fault, and the other person was 99% at fault, then you get nothing. This is opposed to all other states that have comparative negligence. In those states, your monetary award is reduced by the percentage that you were at fault.

For example: say you were in an automobile accident and you were 10% at fault, and the other driver was 90% at fault. A jury believed your case was worth $100,000 for injuries you received.

  • In a contributory negligence state such as ours, you would receive nothing
  • n a comparative negligence state, you would get $90,000

When accepting a case, we will evaluate whether or not you there is any contributory negligence on your part. Some factors we will look at:

  • Accident Report prepared by the investigating officer
  • Photographs of the scene
  • Independent eyewitness testimony
  • Location of damage to the vehicles
  • Whether or not any tickets were issued in the case
  • Whether or not alcohol was involved (or any other factors that could amount to gross negligence)

There are a few ways that contributory negligence can be trumped:

  • Gross Negligence – If the defendant was grossly negligent (ie, driving while impaired or driving with willful and wanton disregard for the rights and safety of others)
  • Doctrine of Last Clear Chance – If you can show that the defendant had the “last clear chance” to avoid the collision. There are several elements to proving Last Clear Chance and we would evaluate all of them thoroughly

If the insurance company asserts your negligence contributed to the accident, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to recover damages for your injuries.

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