North Carolina Contributory Negligence Laws

north-carolina-contributory-negligence-lawsImagine your daughter was paralyzed when a careless driver smashed into her car at an intersection. Her life has been forever changed, and she wants to hold the negligent driver responsible by bringing a lawsuit.

Now imagine your daughter forgot to use her turn signal right before the crash.

The defendant raises this as a defense and claims your daughter’s negligence contributed to the car accident, so he shouldn’t have to pay her any compensation even though she is paralyzed.

Now imagine a North Carolina court accepts the defendant’s argument. The court dismisses the lawsuit because the victim made a small error that contributed to her accident.

This might be hard to believe, but what we described just above is the North Carolina contributory negligence law. If a person’s own negligence contributed in any way to an accident, then they can’t sue for compensation.

What is Contributory Negligence in NC?

North Carolina negligence law allows a person to sue when they are injured because another person did not use sufficient care. The person who sues is the plaintiff, and her job is to show that the defendant she sues was insufficiently careful, which led to injury.

We tend to think of accidents in black-and-white terms—someone made a mistake and injured someone else who was blameless. But many accidents are more complicated than that. Often, both parties made mistakes or were careless, and each contributed to the accident in some way.

If the plaintiff was negligent, then she was contributorily negligent, and a defendant can raise that as a defense. If the plaintiff was even 1% responsible for the accident, she can’t sue.

The Approach Taken by Other States

Once upon a time, every state permitted contributory negligence as a defense to defeat a lawsuit. Over the past 40 years, however, most states began to change their laws. Now, states take different approaches:

  • Some states allow a plaintiff to sue if she was up to 49% responsible for an accident (but not 50% or more).
  • Other states allow a plaintiff to sue if she was up to 50% responsible for an accident (but not 51% or more).
  • Still more states allow a plaintiff to sue regardless of fault, which means she can sue even if she is up to 99% responsible.

There are pluses and minuses to each approach. But one important consideration is fairness. Is it really fair to prevent an injured victim from suing if she was only 1% at fault?

North Carolina: Sticking with Contributory Negligence

North Carolina is 1 of only 4 states that continues to allow contributory negligence as a defense. The results can be shocking. A recent Fox 8 news story described the frustrations a Greensboro mom experienced after her daughter was struck and killed by a driver. Because the daughter was wearing dark clothing at night and walking with her back to traffic, lawyers told the mother a lawsuit would be fruitless, as the daughter bore some of the blame for the accident.

In a different state, the mother could probably bring a lawsuit for wrongful death and receive compensation. In North Carolina, her daughter’s negligence will defeat any attempt to hold the driver responsible in a civil suit.

Negligence Attorneys You Can Trust

If you were injured in an accident, it is vital that you establish you are not to blame in any way for what happened. Attorney Albritton with Irons & Irons P.A. has years of experience bringing personal injury lawsuits based on negligence. Our experience is deep, and we can help you obtain a favorable settlement or jury verdict.

Call 252-752-2485 to schedule a free consultation or complete our contact form.


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