Local Politics

Bill would change N.C. negligence standards in lawsuits

Posted June 4, 2010 6:50 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2010 7:05 p.m. EDT

— A bill making its way through the General Assembly that deals with who gets paid for accidents and injuries could affect anyone who drives a car, owns a home or has any kind of liability insurance.

North Carolina has used the theory of contributory negligence for decades in handling lawsuits. Under that premise, if someone is at all responsible for their injury or accident, they get no monetary award in a lawsuit.

House Bill 813 would change state law to use a theory called "comparative fault," allowing people who might have a small bit of responsibility in their accident or injury to still collect damages from others at fault. Forty-six other states have such laws.

"From a philosophical point, nothing is wrong with that," said Jennifer Cohen, executive director of the Insurance Federation of North Carolina.

Still, Cohen said the bill isn't well thought out.

"There's going to be an increase in claims, an increase in the amount of people (who) can sue, which means insurance rates are likely to go up," she said. "So, wrong bill, wrong time. Let's sit down and talk about it."

Supporters of the bill said the evidence shows insurance rates won't go up with comparative fault.

State Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin hasn't yet weighed in on the debate, saying his department is analyzing the complicated issue.

Lawyer Isaac Thorp said the insurance industry has been fighting efforts to bring comparative fault to North Carolina for years, and he said the issue is a matter of fairness.

Thorp represented a warehouse foreman wounded in a workplace shooting in Asheville more than a decade ago who couldn't collect damages because jurors deemed him part of management who should have done more to make the place more secure from such violence.

"It's a matter of basic personal responsibility," he said.