NC Lawyers' Weekly has provided a great link to an article that was run in the Winston-Salem Journal about contributory negligence laws in North Carolina.
Contrubutory Negligence is an issue that people don't know or care about, until they face the problem themselves. Basically, in NC, even if you are hurt by someone else's negligence, if the other person can prove you are just a little bit to blame for your injury, you are barred from any recovery. That's right. Someone else is 99.9% to blame, and you are barred from recovery.
Columnist Scott Sexton has written a series of excellent articles on the subject and really puts a human face on this convoluted and political issue. I highly recommend reading these articles.
I'll also add this to the mix. One of the problems with contributory negligence is that it is so often a bar to people seeking legal representation. Lawyers who represent injured people know that they could spend years working on case and lose everything at trial simply because a jury felt the Plaintiff may have played some very small part in causing the accident.
Here are some the the previous articles by Sexton:
"Never mind that Joshua was 7 years old and was within 3 feet of the curb, or that Logan was drunk and driving on the wrong side of the road. "By way of affirmative defense, Defendant Logan pleads the contributory negligence of the decedent Plaintiff Joshua Franklin Palomares-Beckles," wrote Rodney Guthrie, Logan's attorney. If a jury in North Carolina decides that you are even a tiny bit at fault in this sort of case, you are entitled to nothing under state law, under a concept called contributory negligence. "In general, I'd say contributory negligence is an insurance company's dream," said Walter Holton Jr., the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Beckles-Palomares. "
"After an automobile accident in New Hanover County involving his daughter, Ashley, a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Norris has become something of an expert on a legal concept known as "contributory negligence," an outdated and completely unfair area of insurance law used only here and in three other states. That leaves option C. "Our insurance company is also using the contributory-negligence law claim that Ashley is limited in what we can recover," Norris said.
"Just four states - North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama and Maryland - still hang on to the concept of contributory negligence, a relic from English Common Law. "
On its face, insurance law - specifically a legal concept called “contributory negligence” - is something that only a serious policy nerd could love.
That is, unless (or until) you or someone you know gets hosed by that law. Then it’s not so boring.
Contributory negligence works like this: If you’re in an accident and deemed to be just 1 percent at fault, you’re not legally entitled to one red cent to cover your damages from the idiot (or his or her insurance company) who was 99 percent to blame.
Three recent columns explored some of the more outrageous abuses of this law. Possibly the worst was the insurance-company attorney who argued that a 27-year-old man killed by a hit-and-run driver in October 2003 while changing a flat tire in Orange County was partly responsible for his own death.
It’s a shameless, outdated blame-the-victim strategy. It also seems like an easy law to change.
Yet objections remain. The state, for example, could switch to a “comparative-negligence” system. If you’re 90 percent at fault, you (or your insurance company) pay 90 percent of the damages.
“Comparative negligence is a nightmare to apply. Few people agree on the percent fault they are assessed, it increases lawsuits, is a cash cow for lawyers, and raises everyone’s insurance rates,” wrote one reader who works in the insurance industry. “If you haven’t noticed, N.C. enjoys some of the lowest auto-insurance rates in the country.”
Good point. And it’s one worth exploring.
North Carolina does indeed enjoy consumer-friendly auto-insurance rates - the sixth lowest in the country, according to the N.C. Department of Insurance.
That’s not, however, because of any sense of fair play by insurance companies nor because contributory negligence keeps costs down.
The credit goes to a man who next to nobody has heard of, state Insurance Commissioner Jim Long. He is basically the final word on insurance rates in North Carolina.
Every Feb. 1, the N.C. Rate Bureau - an umbrella organization representing insurance companies - files a rate request. The bureau then makes a rate recommendation. Actuaries and attorneys with the Department of Insurance negotiate any changes with the rate bureau. If there’s no agreement, then Long decides.
“It’s a pretty long and pretty dull process unless you are an actuary,” said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance.
Given that background, I figured that Long’s thoughts on the merits of contributory negligence versus comparative merits would be worth hearing.
You can read the rest of the article by going to the Winston-Salem Journal.