Call

Blog

Law
02

Blog

ABOLISH CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE!

The antiquated law of Contributory Negligence is particularly horrible for North Carolina cyclists, but cyclists NOW have a say in abolishing it.

If you’ve met me, you’ve heard talk about contributory negligence many times, including here and here and here. My vocation and my passion as a bike crash attorney is representing injured bicyclists and families of bicyclists who have been killed by careless drivers. Contributory negligence severely impairs the right of these individuals and bicyclists to be fairly compensated.

Now there is a bill pending in the North Carolina legislature that would even the playing field. Senate Bill 477, sponsored by Senators Danny Britt, Jim Perry, and Amy Galey, all Republican legislators, if passed into law, would change North Carolina to a comparative fault state.

 

Contributory Negligence Must Be Abolished

If you are reading this, you probably already agree that contributory negligence needs to end! In the past several days, Senators have received thousands of emails and calls from citizens (many of whom are bicyclists – thank you!!) supporting this law. But there will be questions and I want you to be ready for them. Those opposed to the change are organizing to defeat the bill and we will start to hear arguments about it. So let me explain this law in a little more detail and hopefully dispel some of the myths that insurance companies have been spreading and will continue to spread.

 

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence, also known as “contrib,” “pure contributory negligence” and “the 1% rule” is a system by which an injured person who is even 1% at fault for her injuries is entitled to NO damages. Very simply, if someone runs a red light and injures or kills the person with the green light, if the green light person could have seen and avoided a crash, she would not be compensated even one penny for her injuries, even if she ends up in a wheelchair or is otherwise severely injured.

 

Why is pure Contributory Negligence especially bad for bicyclists?

If you’ve ever had a legal case as a bicyclist, you know the answer to this question. There are hundreds of things the average person misunderstands about bicycling and often we can’t seem to do anything right. You shouldn’t be riding on the road, but you also shouldn’t be on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk.

You should be all the way to the right of the lane; no, you should be more to the middle or the left. Your light is too small. You aren’t wearing a reflective vest. Your clip in pedals are dangerous. These are arguments I hear every day. None are true but all can be effective if all the defense attorney or insurance has to prove is 1%.

 

How will the new law change things

The language of Senate Bill 477 (“Victims Fair Treatment Act”) might be a little confusing to non-lawyers because it refers to the change as contributory fault, which you may have heard referred to as “comparative fault.” “Comparative fault” is a good description because it compares the fault of the parties. First of all, if the injured person is more than 50% at fault, they still collect nothing for their damages. If they are less than 50% at fault, then they would be compensated for their injuries, less the amount of fault. If the injured person is 10% at fault, they get 90% of their damages; 40% at fault, they get 60% of their damages. You get the idea.

If this law passes, more careless drivers will be held accountable because insurance companies are not going fight cases where there is minimal fault. It’s not worth it. Why hire a lawyer and spend money to fight a case in order to save 1% or 10%? We will see more accountability and greater efficiency in the system.

 

Abolishing Contributory Negligence will NOT  make insurance go up

First of all, insurance rates are regulated by the rate bureau and insurance companies cannot just raise them because they feel like it. More importantly, however, there is no evidence out there that changing to a comparative fault system will raise rates. Remember, North Carolina is one of only 4 states (also MD, VA and AL) in the entire country with this law. Of the comparative states, some have higher rates and some have lower.

There is no correlation to those states having comparative fault systems. Why is this the case? My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the processing of insurance claims in non-contributory negligence states is way more efficient. Fewer lawyers hired and fewer cases tried. Not that I want to legislate myself out of a job, but frankly, I would rather focus my efforts on cases where there are REAL legal issues and not disputes about whether a bicyclist should have been clipped into her pedals or not.

 

Injured people will still have to prove fault

Here’s an important point the naysayers keep missing. If SB 477 passes and becomes law, an injured person will still first have to prove that the person she is suing is legally negligent, ie. that they did something that the law says is wrong. Nothing about that part will change at all.

If a person buys a product at a store, misuses it and is injured, this law will not change the burden that the injured person has to prove that the store is at fault. Unless the store knew the product was dangerous or altered the product in a dangerous way or had some duty to test the product to make sure it was safe, the store will not be negligent. If a pedestrian jumps into the street in front of a car and the driver is keeping a lookout and following the law but can’t avoid the crash, the pedestrian will not be able to prove that the driver is a fault. That is exactly what the law is now, already, and this bill would not change that.

 

Ending Contributory Negligence the law will NOT hurt small businesses

First of all, look at the other 46 states that have comparative fault laws. Some of these states even have pure comparative fault, where the injured person is entitled to damages even if more than 50% at fault. Even those states are not lacking in small businesses. Our contributory negligence law does not make North Carolina a haven for small businesses, it makes it a favorite state of major insurers and unscrupulous defense lawyers.

Someone posed a concern that a bike park, for example, would be at risk for people suing for injuries from crashing on obstacles that are supposed to be in the bike park. No, no, no. That is not how this works. Again, the injured person first has to prove that the bike park was negligent. That is the case now and the new law would not change that. Bike parks are supposed to have obstacles that people can crash on. That’s why there are warnings, and waivers. Are there bike parks and other athletic facilities in the 46 states with comparative fault? YES! Are they being hurt by stupid lawsuits? NO!

You don’t even get to the question of comparative fault if you can’t first prove negligence. That will not change, nor should it. Only people who do things wrong, and there are plenty of them out there on the highway texting and driving, should be sued. And they should be held accountable. Right now, in North Carolina, they are not being held accountable. We need to fix that and now is our time.

 

Comments

WALLER CRASH
Rachael Maney Nov 08, 2021

WALLER 6 UPDATE: November 20, 2021 The teenage son of Jason and Jennifer Arnold, who, with their permission, was operating his parents’ F-250 diesel truck when he plowed into our 6 clients while they were riding their bicycles on September 25th, 2021 in Waller, Texas, was released to his parents on Thursday afternoon (11/18/21) after […]

Read More
Atlanta Bike Crash
Peter Wilborn Oct 25, 2021

Many of you have heard about the horrific multi-victim crash from October 7, 2021, in which a Chattanooga driver brutally plowed her car into a group of 5 pedestrians as they were crossing a street, causing catastrophic and life changing injuries. In the chaotic aftermath of running a red light and almost killing an entire […]

Read More
Waller Bike Crash Carnage
Rachael Maney Oct 02, 2021

PRESS RELEASE FROM BIKE LAW’S NATIONAL DIRECTOR RACHAEL MANEY In light of the recent Waller Bike Crash in Texas, and in an effort to help untangle and unpack some of the emotionally-charged comments, questions, and inaccurate assumptions being made, we want to update you on the parts that we can share. I hope that this […]

Read More
Brother James
Peter Wilborn Sep 29, 2021

23 years ago today, the world lost my brother Jim. He was killed on his bike by an under-aged driver who blew through a red light. While the years don’t really blunt the loss, they foster gratitude for the gifts left behind. My brother blessed me with so much, but 3 things stand out:   […]

Read More
Family bicycle charity
Bike Law Aug 17, 2021

GUEST POST BY BIKE LAW AMBASSADOR KURT AREHART The bike charity Raleigh Community Kickstand, or just Kickstand for short, is a four year-old project organized under Oaks & Spokes, a 501(c)(3) engaged in fostering cycling in Raleigh. Kickstand channels donated bicycles to low-income and homeless members of our community whose lives can be improved with […]

Read More
Contributory negligence Bike crash
Ann Groninger May 08, 2021

If you’ve met me, you’ve heard talk about contributory negligence many times, including here and here and here. My vocation and my passion as a bike crash attorney is representing injured bicyclists and families of bicyclists who have been killed by careless drivers. Contributory negligence severely impairs the right of these individuals and bicyclists to […]

Read More
Asian-American Triathlete
Rachael Maney May 04, 2021

Bike Month 2021 is setting the bar pretty high. Two days ago, Sika Henry became the first Black woman to earn her pro card in the sport of triathlon. And today, Bike Law and I are honored and excited to announce our sponsorship of the only Asian-American racing on the professional triathlon circuit, Clarice Chastang […]

Read More
Cycliq video close call
Rachael Maney Apr 22, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 23, 2021 Jon Korin, President Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (‘BikeAAA’) 443-685-4103, [email protected]   Rachael Maney, National Director Bike Law 410-382-7803, [email protected]   DRIVER CONVICTED ON CYCLIQ VIDEO EVIDENCE Christopher Lee Bradshaw of Lothian, MD was convicted of violating Maryland’s 3-foot bicycle passing law and negligent driving on […]

Read More
cycling friendship
Ann Groninger Apr 21, 2021

Cycling friendships are wonderful benefit to our sport and community.  A major part of our work as bicycle “accident” lawyers means putting a value on losses that our clients suffer as a result of injures from crashes. When it comes to past and future medical expenses, lost income and other financial losses, the job is […]

Read More
Load More