“Contributory negligence” is one of those legal terms that tends to make a non-lawyer’s eyes glaze over. But despite its obscure-sounding name, contributory negligence is a legal concept that has an enormous impact on personal injury cases in North Carolina and a few other states, which is why you need to understand what it means if you’ve been injured.
To understand what contributory negligence means, we should start out by defining the term “negligence,” an important concept in the world of personal injury law. The outcome of every personal injury lawsuit hinges on the idea of negligence and whether someone acted in a negligent manner.
Of course, you probably know what the word “negligent” means in an everyday sense if you’re reading this. The legal definition of negligence isn’t all that different from the everyday definition of the word — it’s just a little more complicated (as most things involving the law tend to be).
Under the law, negligence is a failure to behave with the level of care that an ordinary, reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances. In other words, if a person finds themselves involved in a personal injury lawsuit, the just must essentially answer two questions to determine if the person was negligent:
- What would a typical reasonable person have done to act in a safe manner?
- Did the defendant fail to act in a safe manner?
Although this sounds simple on paper, it’s not always straightforward to decide which actions constitute negligence. Everyone has their own reasons and motivations for their actions, and there is no magic handbook that tells us exactly what constitutes “reasonable” behavior in every situation. Instead, it’s up to judges and juries to decide what actions are reasonable in a specific circumstance.
Contributory Negligence Versus Comparative Negligence
Now that we know what negligence means in a legal sense, let’s talk about the “contributory” part. There are two options for how courts proceed once they determine who is at fault for an accident or injury in a personal injury lawsuit.
- With comparative fault, the plaintiff (the injured victim in a personal injury case) can receive compensation from a lawsuit based on what percent the defendant was at fault. In other words, if the defendant was 50 percent responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, then the plaintiff can recover up to 50 percent of the total damages.
- With contributory negligence (which is technically called “pure contributory negligence”), the plaintiff can’t recover anything if they were even slightly at fault for their injuries. Even if the accident was 99 percent the defendant’s fault and only 1 percent the plaintiff’s fault, the plaintiff has no right to compensation.
Which theory the courts apply varies from state to state. Only five jurisdictions use the pure contributory negligence rule: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The other 46 states all apply comparative fault.
If contributory negligence sounds like a terrible deal for injury victims next to comparative fault, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, since the system of negligence that applies to your case depends on the jurisdiction where you suffered your injuries, there’s nothing you can do about that.
Working With Contributory Negligence
So, if you suffered your injuries in North Carolina, you’re stuck working under the contributory negligence rule, and it’s up to you to show that the defendant was entirely at fault for your injuries if you want to receive compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. What can you do in this situation to help your case?
The best thing you can do to improve your chances of a successful financial recovery is to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer who can give you candid advice and fight on your behalf in court. Since the other party’s insurance company knows they only need to show that you were 1 percent at fault for the accident to win the case, you can bet they’ll try to do so from the very beginning, and having an advocate on your side who can prepare for and defend against their efforts can be extremely helpful.
Even if the insurance company has taken the position that you were partially to blame for your injuries, it’s still worth talking with an attorney about your case. There are certain ways you can overcome a contributory negligence defense in court. For example, if the defendant’s willful and wanton acts caused your injuries, then the defendant can’t claim contributory negligence. Alternatively, if you can show that the defendant had the last clear chance to avoid an accident and failed to do so, then the defendant can still be held accountable, even under contributory negligence.
A qualified attorney should be able to give you an honest and realistic assessment of your odds of winning your case. Even if it’s disappointing to find out that you have only a small chance of successfully recovering compensation for your injuries, it’s better to figure this out before you ever set foot in a courtroom rather than after you’ve sunk countless hours (and dollars) into preparing legal paperwork, gathering evidence, and figuring out how to represent yourself at trial.
And although it’s possible to represent yourself in a personal injury lawsuit, it is often an uphill battle for victims. This is especially true in jurisdictions like North Carolina that use the pure contributory negligence rule. Meanwhile, contacting an experienced personal injury attorney for a consultation should be free and could make all the difference for your case.
Contact Myers Law Firm if You’ve Been Injured in Mecklenburg County
At Myers Law Firm, we work to demand justice and fair compensation for the victims of senseless injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, we’re here to help. If you choose us to represent you, we’ll act as your advocate and use our legal experience to fight relentlessly on your behalf until your case reaches a resolution.
Call our offices today at (888) 376-2889 or fill out the contact form on our website to schedule your free initial consultation with us. We’ll use this time to get to know you, learn about your situation, and inform you about your legal options so you can go forward with confidence.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.