North Carolina Personal Injury Attorney: Contributory Negligence

Have you been involved in an accident that resulted in bodily injury? If so, you may be entitled to compensation. Compensation, however, can be at risk if you contributed at all to the accident. It is critical to speak to a personal injury lawyer in North Carolina so that a thorough investigation can be conducted and a detailed analysis of the facts and circumstances can be undertaken. You do not want to lose out on the compensation you deserve – the compensation that can help you recover from physical and mental harm – because the defendant argues you contributed to the accident.

At the Law Office of Sean P. Cecil, our Wake County personal injury lawyer understands the law and how to use it to maximize recovery of compensation in personal injury cases. Do not let time pass  before starting your personal injury claim because the defendant is not waiting to build a case against recovery. Contact us at 919-828-1456 ext. 5 today to schedule a Free Consultation. 

What Constitutes Contributory Negligence in North Carolina?

Contributory negligence is a legal principle that is a complete defense to North Carolina personal injury claims. If a plaintiff's actions contributed to the incident and their subsequent injuries in any way, they are barred from recovering any damages.

So even where a plaintiff is only 1% at fault, contributory negligence means they won't receive any damages, even if their injuries are serious or life-changing and despite the defendant's actions being more negligent. The defense of contributory negligence was originally available in most states, resulting in harsh outcomes in many personal injury claims. Although North Carolina is one of the very few states with contributory negligence as policy, the defense of contribution can be overcome by an injured person establishing that the defendant had the "last clear chance" to avoid the injury causing incident.

If you live in North Carolina, a state that still follows the rule of contributory negligence, contact a personal injury attorney immediately to help make sure you get the compensation you deserve. You must protect your interests and take steps to build a strong personal injury claim.

What Types of Personal Injury Cases in North Carolina Involve Contributory Negligence?

Defendants may raise contributory negligence in the context of the following:

  • Car, truck, motorcycle, or other auto accidents, including those involving pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Boat or flying accidents
  • Construction accidents
  • Medical malpractice, e.g., where a patient doesn't follow a doctor's post-operative instructions
  • Dog bites, e.g., where a plaintiff provoked a dog
  • Wrongful death, including workplace accidents
  • Product liability, e.g., where the plaintiff used the product in a way not intended by the manufacturer
  • Premises liability, including slip and fall accidents

Contributory negligence is only followed in a few states, and its specific application to personal injury cases varies. In North Carolina, an injured person can overcome the devastating impact of this unfair law by establishing that the Defendant had the "last clear chance" to avoid the injury. Again, seek the counsel of a personal injury attorney in Wake County to understand what applies in your situation.

Who Determines Contributory Negligence in North Carolina

Who is at fault in a personal injury case – including the issue of contributory negligence – is a finding of fact, not law. In most personal injury cases, if the matter goes to trial, the jury acts as the fact finder. In a case where contributory negligence is raised, the jury hears the evidence from both sides to decide whether the plaintiff contributed in any way to their injuries. 

In most cases, the judge will hear the evidence and decide whether contributory negligence applies. A judge can find that the injured person's contributory negligence was such that the Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, removing the case from a jury altogether. This is why it is important to have an experienced attorney who is familiar with the procedural nuances of pleading and being prepared to proffer evidence that the Defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident. In certain circumstances it can be difficult or even impossible to overcome the specter of contribution and a judge may grant summary judgment and dismiss the case. Properly presenting "last clear chance" as a factual issue for a jury to decide is an important factor in the decision to retain counsel early.

How Is Contributory Negligence in North Carolina Used as a Defense in a Personal Injury Claim

Insurance companies often act on behalf of parties in personal injury cases. The nature of their business model means that insurers have a commercial interest in reducing the payouts they make.  

Where the defense of contributory negligence is available, defendant insurers commonly raise it to try and defeat a personal injury claim. Often, the claim is made despite little or no evidence of the injured party's fault. This can cause significant financial stress to a plaintiff who sustained extensive or serious injuries. Unfortunately, in our system, the insurance company exists for profit, not to compensate injured people.

How Can a Plaintiff Protect Themselves against a Contributory Negligence Defense in North Carolina?

Pleading and being prepared to establish facts consistent with the Defendant having the "last clear chance" to avoid the accident is essential to a successful claim in the face of a contribution claim. If you're the plaintiff in a personal injury claim where the defendant alleges contributory negligence, you should speak to a personal injury lawyer. Cynically, Defendants make the assertion in a large percentage of cases, despite little or no evidence of contribution.

Personal injury attorneys have extensive experience dealing with insurance companies and can review your matter to assess the strength of the contributory negligence claim. They can also advise you on how to best proceed to ensure you have the best chance of receiving adequate compensation for your injuries. 

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Wake County Today

If you or a loved one has suffered harm in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation. You must act fast, especially if you live in a jurisdiction that adheres to the contributory negligence rule. Contact Law Office of Sean P. Cecil at 919-828-1456 ext. 5 or by filling out our online form. Our personal injury lawyer will schedule a Free Consultation to review your case.