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What is Contributory Negligence?
On a previous blog post we discussed the definition of negligence. Negligence is the failure to exercise proper care in the performance of a legal duty owed to another. In an automobile collision, a Plaintiff is the person claiming that someone is negligent (at fault). The Defendant is the person accused of negligence. There are some cases in which the Defendant asserts the defense of contributory negligence. In other words, the Defendant says that although he is negligent, the Plaintiff is in some amount negligent. North Carolina has a rule that if a Plaintiff is even 1% at fault in the collision that the Plaintiff cannot recover damages from the Defendant that was 99% at fault. This means no matter how seriously injured a Plaintiff may be, the Plaintiff is prevented from recovering any amount from a person that was 99% at fault in the collision. While the overwhelming majority of states have recognized the unfairness of this rule to people injured by careless drivers, North Carolina remains one of only a very small number of states that continues to have this rule.
How does contributory negligence work?
Insurance companies on many occasions will use this rule as a basis for denying a Plaintiff’s automobile collision claim. If the case cannot be settled on terms acceptable to the Plaintiff a lawsuit must be filed and then a jury or a judge will decide if the Defendant was negligent and if the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent. At the trial, the Plaintiff must first prove that it is more true than not that the Defendant was negligent. Then the Defendant must prove it is more true than not that the Plaintiff was some percentage negligent. If the jury decides Defendant was negligent and Plaintiff was not contributorily negligent, then the jury decides what amount of money is fair to compensate the Plaintiff for his injuries. If the jury decides the Plaintiff contributed at all to the collision, then the case is over and the Plaintiff recovers nothing.
How can I fight the insurance company’s claim of contributory negligence?
Although the insurance company may be taking this position, fault means you did something wrong or failed to do something you should have done. Just being at a place at the time the other driver made a bad choice and hurts you, does not mean you are at fault. At Helms Robison Lee & Bennett, we have attorneys that can guide you through this confusing and frustrating process. We have experienced attorneys who have battled claims of contributory negligence from insurance companies many times. If you are interested in scheduling a free consultation, please contact R. Kenneth Helms, Jr. or Stephen M. Bennett at 704-289-4577.Back to all blog posts