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End to Contributory Negligence in North Carolina?

Contributory Negligence is Unfair to Injured NC Bicyclists

There is finally a positive development in the fight against Contributory Negligence in North Carolina. Last week a bill called the “Victims’ Fair Treatment Act” was filed in the North Carolina Senate.

If passed, the bill would finally bring North Carolina into line with all but 3 other states by eradicating this deeply unfair law. If you already understand contributory negligence and want to know how to help, please skip to the bottom.

WHAT IS CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE?

If you are not familiar with contributory negligence law, here’s how it works. If you are injured by someone else’s (whether an individual or a company) careless behavior and you are even 1% at fault, you are not entitled to any damages. This is grossly unfair, particularly to bicyclists.

For example, imagine you are at a red light and the light turns green so you start to go. Unbeknownst to you, another driver is about to run the red light. The red light driver hits you and you have serious injuries. What if the red light driver admits they ran the red light, but says that you have at least some fault because you didn’t look before you started going when the light turned green? Suppose the jury believes that the red light driver is 90%  at fault because they ran the red light, but that you are 10% at fault because you started too quickly and should have looked to make sure that the way was clear.

Under these circumstances, in North Carolina, you would be completely excluded from any recovery. I did not make up this scenario; it is taken from an actual case, Hyder v. Asheville Storage Battery Co, 242 N.C. 553 (1955).

Your medical bills, any lost income, your pain and suffering, you get nothing for it; you’re on your own. North Carolina shares this law with Virginia, Maryland and Alabama (all Bike Law states). Every other state in the country some form of “comparative fault.” In a comparative fault state, under our red light scenario, you would be allowed 90% of your damages, knocking off the 10% that the jury believed was the green light driver’s responsibility.

As you can imagine, this law hits bicyclists especially hard. Our actions are often misunderstood under the best of circumstances. Most jurors, judges and insurance adjusters are not bicyclists.

In crashes, it is easy for them to side with the driver, automatically assigning some fault to the bicyclist, just for riding a bicycle on the road. As lawyers representing bicyclists, we work extremely hard to combat this bias, but it is a constant battle. Getting rid of contributory negligence in favor of comparative fault would go a very long way toward leveling the playing field.

HELP END CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: We need stories.

Were you involved in a crash and unable to or unsuccessful in pursuing a claim because of contributory negligence?

Know someone else who was?

Please email me ([email protected]). Just by telling your story, you will help make things better for future injured cyclists or the families of fallen cyclists.

Please share this post with your cycling friends and groups to get the word out.

We need to make sure this change happens this time.

 

Comments

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