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Contributory Negligence

In the United States, there are only four states and the District of Columbia where contributory negligence applies. Those four states are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. In some jurisdictions, the doctrine states that a victim who is at fault to any degree, including only 1% at fault, may be denied compensation entirely. This is known as pure contributory negligence. Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of those states with pure contributory negligence law.

What does all this mean to you?

If you are injured & it is determined that you are just 1% @ fault you may not be able to recover damages due to contributory negligence in North Carolina.

Contributory negligence in North Carolina common-law jurisdictions is generally a defense to a claim based on negligence. This primarily is relevant in determining liability and is applicable when a plaintiff/claimant has, through his/her own negligence, contributed to the harm he/she suffered.

An couple good examples would be the following:

If you are a pedestrian crossing the street, and not paying attention to your surroundings, you would be considered negligent. If you were to get hit by someone driving as you walked out into traffic, even though that person wasn’t paying full attention, you would still be partially at fault for the accident, essentially contributing towards the accident, barring you from recovery in North Carolina.


You are at a community pool and you run and dive into the water and suffer a brain injury because of the shallow depth of the water. The community pool had sufficient signage all around the pool notifying you of the water depth, but you failed to read the warnings. In this situation you are assuming a certain level of risk and responsibility and contributing towards the injury by failing to take proper precautions. 

Contributory negligence in North Carolina often plays an important role in premises liability cases. The negligent premise owner can make the argument that if you should have known of the hazardous condition, then you should have seen the hazardous condition and are, therefore, contributorily negligent and entitled to no recovery. If you did not see the hazardous condition, then the owner can argue that the hazardous condition was not obvious and so not known to the owner and there is no liability. These cases often drag out into litigation simply because it’s a battle of the “he-said/she-said”.

As for auto accidents contributory negligence can be a major factor. In order to successfully establish contributory negligence, a defendant must prove that the plaintiff/claimant, through the plaintiff’s/claimant’s own negligence, contributed to the accident to some degree. But what does it mean to say that the accident VICTIM was negligent? Every person using the road — pedestrian, motorist, and passenger in a vehicle — is required to use reasonable care to protect his/her own safety as well as the safety of others. If a car accident victim fails to protect his/her own safety and the safety of others, he/she is being negligent and will be considered partly at fault for his/her own injuries. Negligent conduct could be: texting, talking on the phone, speeding, making sudden or unexpected movements as a pedestrian, riding with a driver that you know or should have known is drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs or is driving reckless, & interfering with the driver’s operation of the car.

Finally, contributory negligence as it related to last clear chance. A negligent plaintiff/claimant can however recover if he/she is able to show that the defendant had the last opportunity to avoid the accident. If the plaintiff has the last clear chance to avoid the accident, the defendant will not be liable.

Written by: Corene Justice, Case Manager in our Hickory, NC office.

Campbell & Associates can help you with any contributory negligence issues you may have. With convenient locations in Charlotte, Gastonia, Hickory, Monroe, and Rock Hill, SC we’re available to help you with all of your Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation and Disability needs. Call today 704-333-0885 for a free consultation, there’s never a fee unless we get a settlement offer for you!


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