Contributory Negligence: Why An Accident May Still Be Your Fault

Posted November 5, 2013

Imagine driving down the street and approaching an intersection. Your light is green, so you go through. Suddenly, a car from the street on your right careens through his red light and crashes into your car. Fortunately, your injuries are minor, but your car is totaled. It's obvious that the accident was the other driver's fault, right?

Maybe not. When an accident occurs, the legal system looks at who is negligent. Perhaps one driver was going too fast, driving under the influence or was distracted. But what happens if one driver was speeding and the other was texting? Both drivers could be at fault.

In many states, the legal system looks at the comparative negligence of each side in an accident. If one driver is driving under the influence, but the other was driving just five miles over the speed limit, the legal system compares the degree of fault of each person's actions.

But North Carolina and a few other states are different. North Carolina's legal system considers contributory negligence instead of comparative negligence. What that means is, if a victim is even 1 % at fault for the accident, he or she is barred from any recovery.

Let's look at the beginning scenario again. In North Carolina, the insurance company may say that even though your light was green, you were still responsible for making sure the intersection was clear before you went through, therefore you are contributorily negligent. Therefore, you are barred from any recovery.

At the Law Office of D. Hardison Wood, one approach we have successfully employed to counter the contributory negligence claim is the last clear chance. This argument says that even if the victim had some degree of negligence, if he or she could not avoid the accident, but the defendant had time to do so, but did not, the victim can seek damages.

In our scenario, you were already in the intersection and were not able to get out of the way of the defendant's car. By demonstrating that the defendant had time to avoid the accident but did not, he or she remains responsible.

We understand how frustrating it is for victims to learn they cannot receive compensation for injuries and damage from accidents that weren't their fault. Contact our talented and skilled attorneys so we can ensure your legal rights are best represented. For more information on contributory negligence, please call us today.

The Law Office of D. Hardison Wood is an advertising partner of, but each article is intended to be educational and informative in nature.


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