Let’s first start off by defining what negligence is. Negligence in North Carolina occurs when a person fails to act as a reasonable and prudent person would act in order to protect himself and others from injury or damage.
The next question is how do reasonable and prudent people drive their vehicles? Generally, they are expected to follow all traffic rules, they drive the speed limit, they leave plenty of space to make maneuvers and they drive pretty defensively. Think back to the lessons you received in your high school driver’s education course. That’s pretty much how the law requires you to drive if you want to be driving reasonably and prudently.
So how is this relevant to contributory negligence? Well, the law of the land in North Carolina is that if you are deemed to have done anything negligent in your accident, and if that negligence helped cause your injuries, then you cannot recovery any compensation for your injuries. This is the law even where your negligence is very minimal.
It’s a strict law that can have devastating effects on injured people. Imagine:
- if your car runs out of gas and another vehicle hits you,
- if your car unexpectedly brakes down and you are not able to maneuver it all the way to the shoulder of the road and another vehicle hits you,
- you slam on your brakes to avoid backed up traffic on the interstate and you are rear ended, or
- you are backing out of your driveway and another vehicle approaches to fast and hits you.
The reasonable and prudent person, arguably, (1) doesn’t run out of gas, (2) immediately recognizes their car is breaking down and coasts off the shoulder of the road, (3) doesn’t have to slam on brakes (because they always leave plenty of space to stop), and (4) doesn’t back out if they are not certain they have enough space (even for cars approaching too fast).
All three of those are scenarios where your case is probably going to be denied by the insurance company, and you are going to have to file a lawsuit and try to convince a jury that what you did was not even 1% of the cause of the accident. You will have to show that you acted as the reasonable and prudent person would have acted.
In most other states, the law is that you are allowed to recover for your injuries so long as your negligence is less than the other person who had a part in causing your injuries. In essence, the law holds the person that is most at-fault liable. Unfortunately, here in North Carolina our legal system only holds people who are 100% at-fault liable. In North Carolina, you can be 99% at-fault for a terrible accident, and you don’t owe anybody anything if you can prove that the other driver contributed 1% to the accident.