North Carolina Auto Accident – Summary of Elements of a Negligence Claim

Our post today will summarize the elements you have to prove to succeed in your auto accident claim. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your auto accident, please contact one of our Durham Personal Injury Attorneys or Greensboro Personal Injury Attorneys through the Free Consultation form to the right, by phone at 888-820-5885 or by email at

For most North Carolina auto accidents, establishing legal responsibility or legal liability on the at-fault driver involves the same analysis.  At the root of auto accident liability is the same question: did someone else’s carelessness recklessness or lack of attention cause you property damage or injury? Proving someone was negligent is generally no more complicated than just determining that someone harmed you by being careless, reckless, or lacking proper attention. The legal elements of a negligence claim we have outlined below sound a little more complicated, but, cumulatively, they establish that someone injured you by being careless, reckless, or lacking proper attention while driving. If you have any questions about any element of your case, please contact our Durham car accident lawyer.

The four legal elements that you have to prove if your case goes to court are:

  1. Duty –  The other driver owed you a duty of care. You generally have to prove that the other driver owed you a duty.  Fortunately, in North Carolina, every driver on the road owes you a duty to maintain control of their car, maintain proper attention, and follow the rules of the road.  So, just by sharing the road with you the other driver owed you a duty of care.
  2. Breach – The other driver breached their duty of care. You can prove this by showing what the other driver did that was careless, reckless or lacked attention. For example, the other driver may have failed to yield the right of way (turned in front of you), failed to maintain a proper distance from you (rear end), etc. Showing that the other driver breached their duty of care is no more complicated than just describing what the other driver did that caused the accident.
  3. Causation – The other driver’s breach of their duty of care caused your damages. This element just requires that you are only seeking compensation for damages that were caused by the other driver’s negligence. For example, if you had pre-existing damage to your car, then the other driver will not owe you for the pre-existing damage. Under this element you are required that the other driver that you are suing is the one who caused your damages. Because North Carolina has the doctrine of Contributory Negligence (which basically means that you are unable to collect from the other driver if you are partially at-fault for your accident), this element is important as you may have to successfully defend yourself if the other driver alleges that you were partially at fault.
  4. Damages – You have to prove that you actually suffered damages. This element should be easy and mostly a given if you are considering a lawsuit. You have to show that the accident caused you some property damage or injury. Generally a repair estimate, medical bills, etc. is sufficient to establish that you have suffered damages.

Typically these elements are not specifically discussed during the negotiation phase of your personal injury claim. For most auto accidents the existence of each of these elements is obvious, so they are not discussed at length. The only discussion and negotiation will be around agreeing upon the fair value of your damages (particularly if you have injuries, as the settlement value of an injury can be very difficult to agree upon). Occasionally your property damage claim will be contested (e.g., if you can not agree on the value of your total loss or on the diminishment of value of your vehicle).

Our Durham Injury Attorneys and Greensboro Injury Attorneys serve clients with injury cases in Durham County, Guilford County (including the cities of Gibsonville, Greensboro, High Point, Jamestown, Oak Ridge, Pleasant Garden, Sedalia, Stokesdale, Summerfield and Whitsett) and Orange County (including the cities of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough).