Case Law Update – Contributory Negligence
North Carolina is one of the only states remaining which embraces the concept of contributory negligence. Essentially, this means that a jury will be instructed to give the Plaintiff nothing, if the jury finds the Plaintiff contributed even one percent to the accident or injury. In the personal injury world, this is commonly known as “The One Percent Rule”.
This defense is a powerful one for defendants, and sets a very low hurdle for defendants to overcome at trial. However, plaintiffs are still entitled to be compensated where a defendant is negligent and the Plaintiff did not contribute to the accident or injury.
A Recent Case
As recently as 2022, the NC Court of Appeals remanded a case (Klapp v. Buck) back to the trial court after the Plaintiff appealed an adverse decision based on contributory negligence. In the case in question, a bicyclist was hit by a vehicle. The Defendant was attempting a left turn in an intersection, as the Plaintiff was going straight through the intersection. It is noteworthy that the Plaintiff was made visible to other drivers by usage of numerous lights on the bicycle and another light attached to her clothing. Additionally, the Plaintiff was in a line of cars in traffic, also moving straight through the intersection. The Defendant yielded to the vehicles in front of the Plaintiff, but made their left turn when the Plaintiff was traversing the intersection, which caused the accident.
The cases and language relied upon by the Court of Appeals hinged on a few key points:
A plaintiff is entitled to assume a defendant will comply with the law, even to the last moment
A plaintiff is not required to assume a defendant will be negligent (as this Defendant was)
“A scintilla (very small amount) of evidence” is not enough to establish that a plaintiff was
How Contributory Negligence Affects Our Practice
As a plaintiff’s lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributory negligence is often raised as a bar to recovery or personal injury settlement by the defending insurance company or their attorneys. Insurance companies lean hard on the one percent required to win their case—even in those situations where their client (the Defendant) was also negligent.
While this case does not remove contributory negligence from the conversation when negotiating or litigating a negligence claim, it establishes that the Defendant will have to do more than simply allege that the Plaintiff was also at fault. While it was not explicitly stated, it is implied that juries and judges expect more than an allegation or even an establishment of contribution equivalent to one percent.
Speak To A Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Today
If you have been injured in a car accident, it’s important to speak with a car accident lawyer. These finer points can make the difference between no recovery at all, and a fair result for an injured party. Lawyers and law firms that follow recent case decisions are better equipped to argue in your favor and obtain the best result possible.
If you would like a consultation with a personal injury lawyer, you can click HERE or call us at 704.749.7747. The conversation is free, and it’s important that you understand your rights if you’ve been injured. We hope you’ll choose to recover with us.