NC Car Accident Injury Lawyers Discuss Defenses: Contributory and Comparative Negligence | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

North Carolina, along with Alabama, Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. are contributory negligence jurisdictions. What is contributory negligence? Well, it means that if you are injured due to the negligence of another party but evidence shows you partially contributed to causing the accident (even as low as 1%) then your claim for recovering damages against the other party is completely barred from recovery.

A good example of contributory negligence would be a scenario in which you failed to signal when changing lanes and are rear ended by a speeding motorist. While it would be absolutely true that the motorist, if not for their speeding, would not have hit you and was the proximate cause of your injury due to their breach of duty by disobeying traffic laws, you may not be able to recover from that party for your damages because you contributed to the accident.


If this scenario occurred in a different state which uses comparative negligence, the outcome would be different. In comparative negligence jurisdictions, damages are apportioned by the amount of negligence. For example, let’s say there is $100,000 in damages from a personal injury caused by a car accident. A jury could find that a victim contributed 30 percent to the accident and reduce the damage award to 70 percent (meaning the plaintiff would still receive $70,000 in damages). Contributory negligence states do not allow such allocation of fault and reduction in damages.

It is important to keep in mind that, in order to be barred from recovery, your negligence must have contributed to causing the accident and not merely making your injuries worse.

A good example would be when a plaintiff, while intoxicated, is obeying all of the rules of the road and is hit from the side when another party runs a red light. Even though the plaintiff was intoxicated, the plaintiff’s actions did not contribute to the accident (though this would be open to argument and evidence would need to be introduced by witnesses and police reports as well as personal accounts from both sides).

The hairsplitting that can occur in contributory negligence law is another reason why you should seek the assistance of a personal injury attorney after a serious accident caused by another party. Trying to deal with the insurance company and their defense lawyers on your own is a recipe for disaster and will likely result in the insurance company making a low-ball offer on your claim.