Contributory negligence is a doctrine that completely bars an injured person’s recovery if that person is determined to be proximately at fault for the incident that caused the harm or the injuries. Recovery is barred even if the injured person is found to be only 1% at fault.
Because of its inherent unfairness, all but 4 states, Alabama, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia, along with the District of Columbia, have abolished contributory negligence and follow what is known as comparative negligence. Comparative negligence provides that the amount an injured person is allowed to recover from a negligent party that caused harm is reduced proportionately to the percentage of fault placed on the injured person. For example, if a jury determines an injured party is to recover $100,000.00, and that the injured party is 20% at fault, the award is reduced accordingly and the injured party receives $80,000.00.
Contributory negligence currently remains the law in North Carolina because of the powerful lobbying efforts of the insurance industry. Millions of dollars are spent to keep the legislature from changing this unfair law, which ultimately hurts those injured by the negligence of others and the citizens of North Carolina. Rather than forcing those who injure someone to pay for the portion of the damages they caused, contributory negligence often allows that money to remain in the hands of insurance companies. The money in turn is not spent in local North Carolina communities, including for reimbursing the medical team providing the care and treatment of the injured.
Most often, the citizens of North Carolina do not see the need to challenge the law, or have not heard of it, until it’s too late and they’ve suffered its consequences. For example, you are sitting at a red light waiting on it to turn green, when you are suddenly rear ended. You can expect the insurance defense attorney to tell the jury that you should have looked in your rear view mirror, realized his client was going to rear end you, and moved out of the way to avoid being hit. This is ridiculous. Most juries will see through this argument, but not all. Even if the jury finds the defendant to have been 99.99% at fault, you receive nothing.
Our clients are often faced with allegations that they contributed somehow to their own injuries. At Fisher Stark, P.A., we deal with such allegations on a regular basis and are adept at handling them. Because of the laws devastating consequences, we encourage anyone injured through the fault of another to contact an experienced injury attorney prior to giving statements to anyone other than law enforcement and medical professionals necessary for treatment and care. Often times such statements are used to set up a defense of contributory negligence, leading to less than full recovery, or in many instances, no recovery at all.