If you’ve heard of contributory negligence and wondered what it is, here’s an explanation: it means that if you are at fault AT ALL in causing your own injuries, you cannot recover anything from the other person or persons involved or from their insurance. This means that if you are in a wreck and a jury determines that you are .00001% at fault, and the other driver is 99.9999% at fault, you get zero, regardless of how severe your injuries are or how much they cost you. If that sounds ridiculous and barbaric, well, that’s because it is.
North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and the District of Columbia are the only five jurisdictions in the United States that still follow this law. Defenders of contributory negligence claim it is a law about “personal responsibility” which, of course, it is not. It’s a law designed entirely to benefit insurance companies and to make sure that injured people cannot obtain compensation. The law of Comparative negligence, on the other hand, looks at how much each party is at fault, and determines recoveries based on the percentage of fault. For example, in a comparative jurisdiction, if you have no fault for your injury and the jury returns a verdict of $25,000, then you get the entire recovery. If you are determined to be 20% at fault and the other driver is 80% at fault, then you would get $20,000 of a $25,000 verdict. In a contributory negligence jurisdiction like North Carolina, if you are at fault at all, you will never hear the value of your injuries, because you will get zero.
Contributory negligence does not apply to every case, and there are a couple of defenses to get around it, but they, also do not apply in every case. Sean Cole has tried cases both for people and for previously for insurance companies, and has won and lost cases where contributory negligence was an issue, so he knows what to look for in evaluating your case. He has also made good law for injured consumers at the North Carolina Court of Appeals by winning an appeal about contributory negligence and the doctrine of Last Clear Chance.
When you’re deciding on a lawyer to handle your case, you need an experienced trial and appellate lawyer who can honestly evaluate your claims and tell you what your next steps should be. Sean Cole is just the lawyer for that. Sean knows what the insurance company’s next move will be; do you know what yours should be? Contact us to find out.