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Can You Get Compensation If the Accident Was Your Fault?

North Carolina has one of the strictest standards in the nation for recovering compensation in a car accident.

North Carolina personal injury law follows a doctrine known as “pure contributory negligence.” According to this rule, if the person who files a car accident personal injury claim contributed to their own injuries, then the other driver is not financially responsible, and the plaintiff is not eligible for compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If you have questions about pursuing an insurance claim in a car accident case and wonder whether you contributed to a motor vehicle accident that was someone else’s fault, you should speak to a knowledgeable car accident lawyer. The law requires that a defendant using a contributory negligence defense must prove that the plaintiff acted negligently and contributed to the accident.

In Raleigh, N.C., the car accident lawyers at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., will review the details of your accident and assess the potential for pursuing compensation. If we can pursue an insurance claim or personal injury claim for you, we will handle it on a contingency basis. You will only be charged a legal fee if we recover money for you in a settlement or court award. If we do not recover compensation, you owe us nothing.

Understanding Fault in North Carolina

Car accident claims revolve around proving fault for the collision. Legally, fault is known as “negligence,” or failure to follow the level of care that a reasonable person would have exercised under similar circumstances. An accident victim who pursues an injury claim must show that:

  • The other driver involved acted negligently, such as by failing to obey traffic rules and remain alert while driving
  • This breach of duty caused the car accident and injured the plaintiff
  • The defendant’s actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s injury
  • The plaintiff suffered financial harm such as medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and property damage.

In court, a jury hears evidence and determines whether the defendant was at fault. If the jury decides the defendant was at fault, the jury then must determine whether the injured person also is partly at fault for causing the accident. Applying the pure contributory negligence rule that North Carolina uses, if the plaintiff is found to be even 1% responsible for the accident, the injured plaintiff cannot recover compensation.

Only four states – North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Alabama – and the District of Columbia have pure contributory negligence laws.

Exception to the Pure Contributory Negligence Rule

If a defendant in a car accident claim expects to avoid paying damages for a car accident they were primarily responsible for, then the defendant will need to prove that the plaintiff was somehow also at fault. The jury would decide whether the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident.

North Carolina recognizes the “last clear chance” exception. This doctrine excuses a driver’s contribution to an accident if the other party had a final opportunity to avoid the accident but failed to do so. The last clear chance doctrine was established in Exum v. Boyles (1968). In that case, the defendant hit and killed the plaintiff as he was changing his right rear tire on the side of the road. The plaintiff was negligent because he was changing the tire while his car was so close to the edge of the road that his body hung over into the paved portion of the road. The defendant did not see the plaintiff until “virtually the instant of impact.”

The Court stated the last clear chance doctrine “imposes liability upon the defendant … only if the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff to maintain a lookout and would have discovered his situation had such a lookout been maintained.” Because motorists have a responsibility to maintain a lookout in the direction in which they are traveling, the defendant could have seen the plaintiff had he been maintaining a lookout and avoided the collision.

The last clear chance doctrine has been clarified in several subsequent cases to require a last “clear” chance rather than a last “possible” chance to avoid injury. In Addison v. Kye (2004) the Court said, “there must be an appreciable interval of time between the plaintiff’s negligence and his injury during which the defendant, by the exercise of ordinary care, could or should have avoided the effect of plaintiff’s prior negligence.”

What If I Am Found at Fault for a Car Accident?

If you are a plaintiff in a car accident lawsuit and are found to be partially at fault in North Carolina, the immediate impact is that you will not recover compensation from the other driver’s insurance company.

You will need to turn to your own insurance company rather than the other driver’s insurance carrier for any compensation available. If you have medical payments coverage, for example, you may file a claim against your insurance to cover the costs of your medical expenses up to the policy limits. It should cover your medical costs regardless of who was the at-fault driver. If  you have collision coverage insurance, you could file a claim with your own insurance carrier to cover damage to your vehicle.

Get Free Legal Advice from Our Car Accident Attorneys

If an accident happened and you have questions about a car accident injury claim, contact an experienced Raleigh car accident lawyer at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A. In a free consultation, a knowledgeable attorney can review the circumstances of your car accident and discuss your rights under North Carolina law to pursue compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and other crash-related losses. Our law firm has helped many injured people recover physically and financially from car accidents involving serious injuries. We’d like to help you too.

Contact us now online or at 919-661-9000. We understand the challenges you face if you have serious injuries from an auto accident. Our law firm will provide you with the legal services, personal care, and attention you deserve. Our law firm has fluent English and Spanish-speaking staff members to ensure your legal matter gets appropriate attention.

About the Author

Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A.
At Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., our clients work closely with a legal team that is dedicated to providing outstanding client service and unflinching legal representation. The majority of our attorneys and support staff have worked with our firm for many years.

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