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What is contributory negligence in North Carolina?

North Carolina is one of the few states that still has “pure” contributory negligence. This means that, if you are involved in an accident in North Carolina, and it is determined that you were even 1% at fault for the accident, you cannot recover against the other party for any damages you received in the accident.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has explained the doctrine of contributory negligence as follows:

Every person having the capacity to exercise ordinary care for his own safety against injury is required by law to do so, and if he fails to exercise such care, and such failure, concurring and cooperating with the actionable negligence of defendant contributes to the injury complained of, he is guilty of contributory negligence. Ordinary care is such care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances to avoid injury. Hahne v. Hanzel, 161 N.C. App. 494, 497-98, 588 S.E.2d 915, 917 (2003), citing Clark v. Roberts, 263 N.C. 336, 343, 139 S.E.2d 593, 597 (1965).

If you have been injured in an accident in North Carolina and the at-fault driver’s insurance company has denied your claim, chances are they are denying the claim because they believe that you were also negligent in the accident. In most cases, you will need to consult with a North Carolina attorney to understand your legal options once the claim has been denied.

Am I stuck if I am found to be negligent?

No. North Carolina also has what are called “ameliorating doctrines” that allow a way around the contributory negligence problem. For example, if you can show that the at-fault driver had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident, even though you were at least 1% negligent, you can still recover. That is why it is important to talk to an attorney about your legal options before it is too late.