If I was partially at fault for my car accident, am I out of luck?

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Sometimes it can be difficult for insurance companies to determine which driver is at fault in collision cases. (It is the insurance company, not the police, which must analyze the evidence and assign responsibility.) Most states have laws concerning “contributory negligence” or “proportional comparative negligence” systems whereby injured parties can recover partial damages even if they were partly at fault in the crash. When it’s not completely clear as to which driver was responsible in a vehicle collision, state law determines how fault is to be assigned, and your case will be resolved depending on the laws of the state where you reside.

Are you, the injured party, out of luck? It depends on where you live.

It’s important to understand the difference between contributory and comparative negligence. North Carolina has fairly strict “contributory negligence” rules governing whether a victim of a car crash can receive compensation for his or her injuries. Under contributory negligence, if the plaintiff is found to be in any way responsible for the crash, even only partly, the plaintiff cannot receive any compensation.

If you are injured in a vehicle collision and live in one of the few states that still use the contributory negligence system—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, or Washington, D.C.— you may be entirely unable to recover damages for your injury when the court or jury find that your own negligence contributed to the car accident. Courts have viewed the outcomes of such cases as unnecessarily harsh and sometimes unfair. That is why most states today follow a comparative negligence system.

In comparative negligence states, the injured party can recover part of the damages awarded. Under the “pure comparative negligence” approach, the plaintiff is awarded a percentage of the total damages awarded. For example, if the judge or jury rules that the plaintiff is 50 percent responsible for the collision, the plaintiff will receive 50 percent of the damages. Under the more common “modified comparative negligence” approach, if the plaintiff is found to be either equally (50 percent) responsible or more (more than 50 percent) responsible for collision and injury, the plaintiff will not recover damages.

In North Carolina, legislators have attempted on occasion over the years to change the state’s negligence standards, but the opposition—large insurance companies and business groups—have argued that any change will increase insurance costs and negatively affect the state’s economy, and their arguments have prevailed.

Richard Manger, principal of Manger Law Firm, has extensive experience in litigation and settlements, with a focus on personal injury and workers’ compensation law. We are proud of the strong relationships of loyalty and trust we develop with our clients. We go above and beyond to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. You can contact Richard Manger via email at ram@mangerlaw.com, or by calling (336) 882-2000.

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