What is Contributory Negligence in North Carolina

What is Contributory Negligence in North Carolina?

Contributory negligence in North Carolina means that if the injured person is just partially at fault for the accident, then they cannot recover anything from the other person.  Determining whether someone was contributorily negligent is based on an objective standard – did the injured person fail to act as someone in the same or similar circumstances to avoid the injury.  Determining whether contributory negligence is applicable to a claim depends significantly on the specific facts of the case.

What Does the 1% Rule Mean

Many people that discuss North Carolina contributory negligence talk about the 1% rule. This rule means that even if the injured person was only 1% at fault for their injuries, they cannot recover anything for their claim.  This description of contributory negligence has never been formally adopted by any appellate court in North Carolina.  Nonetheless, this general principal appears to be applicable in North Carolina.

Are There Any Exceptions to the North Carolina Contributory Negligence Law

Under North Carolina law, there are exceptions to the contributory negligence law.  For instance, contributory negligence is not a bar to a plaintiff’s recovery when the defendant’s gross negligence or willful conduct was the cause of the injuries.  Circumstances that might apply would include where the defendant was operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

Consider the following example:  A man is walking along a lit roadway at night with his back to traffic when he is hit by a drunk driver from behind.  Under North Carolina law, a pedestrian is required to walk facing traffic so, in this case, there would be a basis to find the pedestrian contributory negligent.  However, because the driver was impaired, this impairment may provide an exception to the pedestrian’s negligence and still allow for the injured pedestrian to recover from the driver.

Another very important exception to contributory negligence is something called last clear chance.  This exception means that if a victim is in a position of obvious danger and the defendant had the opportunity to see the victim in a position of danger and had the opportunity to avoid hitting the victim but did so anyway, the doctrine of last clear chance would allow the victim to recover despite contributory negligence.

North Carolina is one of a very few states that still follow this old and very unfair rule of law.  As of now, only Alabama, Maryland and Virginia join North Carolina in applying contributory negligence as a complete bar to any recovery.  Most states have adopted a more reasonable approach called comparative fault or modified comparative fault.

If you have a question about a claim in North Carolina where contributory negligence appears to be an issue, please feel to contact the lawyers at Hendren Redwine & Malone for a free consultation about your claim.

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