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Negligence in North Carolina

By Stephen M. Bennett March 31, 2017

Personal Injury

Much of the field of litigation is focused on a person seeking redress for injuries caused by another. Whether the focus is the repayment of medical expenses from injuries suffered when slipping on a wet floor that was inadequately marked, compensation for pain and suffering stemming from injuries caused by a motor vehicle collision, or even recoupment of money paid to correct the poor construction of a house, the avenue by which a person is made whole is through the claim of negligence.

Negligence is the failure to exercise proper care in the performance of a legal duty that the defendant owed the plaintiff under the circumstances surrounding them. In order to succeed on a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must show the following four things: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty, (2) the defendant breached that duty, (3) the breach of that duty proximately caused injury to the plaintiff, and (4) the plaintiff actually suffered damage or injury.

Duty

In order for a defendant to be held liable to a plaintiff, the defendant must actually owe a legal duty to the plaintiff. Such a duty may arise by statute (such as a local municipality having the statutory duty to maintain sidewalks), by relationship (such as a doctor owing a patient a legal duty to provide him with competent medical care), or by circumstance (a driver owes other drivers the duty of operating their own vehicle with a certain level of care).

Breach of Duty

Whether a defendant breached a duty to a plaintiff is an examination of the propriety of the defendant’s actions in comparison to what a “reasonably prudent person” would do under similar circumstances. Essentially, this is an inquiry into what an average person would do in the same situation and circumstances. If the defendant acted in a manner that an average person (with the same knowledge the defendant had at the time) would not, they likely acted in a negligent manner.

Causation

Causation is the most litigated element of the claim of negligence. If a defendant’s actions, though negligent in nature, did not proximately cause injury to the plaintiff and such injury was not reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances, the defendant will not be held liable. For example, consider the actions of a driver texting while driving. Such an act is unreasonable in this day and age (and actually illegal in North Carolina). If, at the same time the driver was texting, a motor vehicle collision occurred in a parking lot on the other side of the road from where the texting driver was driving, would the texting driver be responsible? The answer is “no.” Though acting negligently, the texting driver’s action did not cause the collision at hand and they would not be held responsible.

Damage

The final element of a negligence claim is that the plaintiff actually suffered injury or damage as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty. In a motor vehicle collision case a plaintiff likely suffered injuries or damage in the form of bodily injuries, pain and suffering, or even lost wages. In a negligent construction case, a homeowner likely suffered damage from having to pay a contractor to fix poor work by another contractor. Importantly, without damage or injury, there can be no negligence.

How can we help?

Have you been injured because of someone’s negligent conduct? At Helms Robison Lee & Bennett, we have attorneys that can help navigate the issue of negligence and offer sound advice and suggestions. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation please contact R. Kenneth Helms, Jr. or Stephen M. Bennett at 704.289.4577.

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