North Carolina is one of the few states left known as a contributory negligence state. In insurance terms, that means that, aside from a few exceptions, if you are at fault for an accident or injury – even partially at fault – they may not have to compensate you for your injuries or damages. And you may even have to pay for damages caused from the accident or injury. So be careful what you say to your insurance adjuster as you may accidentally give yourself contributory negligence without realizing it.
What Does Contributory Negligence Mean?
Contributory negligence means you were partially at fault for the accident. How much is partially at fault? Even as little as 1% at fault could mean you get nothing in North Carolina. Some insurance companies have a field day with this outdated (and one-sided) law and that is one of the first things they may try to prove in an effort to try to avoid paying you damages.
You need to know something about contributory negligence. But I’m going to warn you. You’re not going to like it.
You probably engage in contributory negligence almost every day without realizing it.
Have you ridden in someone else’s car that you knew was not necessarily in the best operating condition? Have you ever ridden “just a few blocks” without your seatbelt? Have you ever interfered with a driver’s ability to operate the car?
If you were injured in an accident and found to be contributory, in many cases the insurance company could theoretically deny you any claim for damages.
That is where an experienced North Carolina accident attorney may be able to help you. Contributory negligence, as you can imagine, is a very gray area, and it may take an experienced North Carolina personal injury lawyer to argue a contributory negligence case with the insurance company.
Our state is one of only three states and the District of Columbia that still has these laws on the books.
Simply put, contributory negligence laws can sometimes unfairly favor those who caused harm while punishing victims. If you’re just a fraction at fault, you could get zero.
It is what it is. Yet we continue to fight against contributory negligence claims on a daily basis. What we have learned is that many of our clients who are accused of contributory negligence by the insurance company simply had no idea that they may have been contributing to their injuries.
How to Minimize Your Own Contributory Negligence
Here are some things to beware of to help minimize insurance company accusations that you contributed to your injuries.
Pay attention to your surroundings. If you are a pedestrian and you cross the street in front of a bus or truck without looking and you are struck by an oncoming vehicle, the insurance company may claim you did not look and therefore you are partially at fault.
Don’t ride in a car with a driver that you know has been drinking, is reckless, or sleepy.
When your Check Engine light comes on, have the engine checked ASAP. How long do you drive your car after the “check engine” light comes on? (Be truthful.) The mechanic who makes a report to the insurance company will note this, giving fodder to the insurance company to possibly try to deny your injury claim.
Don’t distract the driver.
If you are a motorcyclist or bicyclist, don’t filter through traffic. These vehicles are difficult enough to see normally. And make sure you wear a helmet. It’s the law in NC.
NC Personal Injury Lawyers Offer FREE Case Evaluation
Studies have shown that, on average, car accident victims who hired a personal injury lawyer to represent them received 3.5X more compensation for their loss than they would have on their own*.
This can ring particularly true for instances in which the insurance company is crying contributory negligence. If you have been injured in a car crash, contact us for a free case evaluation to see if we can try to help you recover damages for your injuries, or call us at 1-866-900-7078.
* Insurance Research Council 1999