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Contributory Negligence Holds on for Dear Life in NC

As this is a blog about North Carolina law, it probably makes sense to talk occasionally about issues which are different in North Carolina from most states. For example, North Carolina is one of the few states which states that if an individual is injured via the actions of a negligent defendant; that individual can be completely barred from recovery if the defendant can establish that the individual was in anyway negligent in their own way.

Now, your initial thinking has to be – okay both sides are negligent, the plaintiff gets nothing; that makes sense. But, what if the Plaintiff is only 5% at fault? Or 1% at fault??? Or 100% at fault (wait… the plaintiff probably shouldn’t get anything there, scratch that). Under North Carolina law, the Plaintiff would recover nothing. The standard of law is called contributory negligence and although it is great for businesses – particularly insurance companies – it stinks for potential plaintiffs, one of several laws on the books here in the state that make it tough on individual plaintiffs.

Most states have a “comparative negligence” standard. Under a comparative negligence standard, Plaintiffs’ recovery is reduced based on the percentage that they can be blamed for the injury. If there are 100,000.00 in damages and the Plaintiff is 10% at fault, then the Plaintiff’s recover would be reduced by $10,000.00, leaving the Plaintiff with 90,000.00.

Critics of the comparative negligence standard say that it is confusing, difficult to apply, and that it has cooties. All fair points, and thus far it has held up. However, there is apparently some traction in having North Carolina revisit this standard. This is definitely something for business owners who have some risk of job-related accidents involved in their profession to keep their eyes on.

Maginnis Law, PLLC is a Raleigh, NC litigation law firm representing businesses – and certain individuals – in litigation matters. The firm also practices in Cary, Wake Forest, Morrisville and the rest of the Research Triangle area. Visit our website at for information on consultations or contact the firm at 919.526.0450