How Does North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Law Affect My Ability to Recover Damages in a Drunk Driving Accident?

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A lawyer and a client reading through a law book together with an open laptop and a judge's gavel on the desk.North Carolina has some tough laws regarding motor vehicle accidents. Possibly one of the harshest is the contributory negligence law.

In most collisions, one driver is at fault for the accident, and the other driver has the right to claim compensation for damages.

The contributory negligence law, according to Forbes, prevents this process from happening if the victim of the accident is partially at fault, even as little as 1% takes away the victim’s ability to receive compensation.

Insurance companies are aware of this law and will use it to avoid having to pay for their clients. They will try to find any reason to blame you for part of the collision, so it is imperative that you are very careful with what you say.

It is best not to discuss the accident with anyone except for your lawyer, and do not talk to the defendant’s insurance company without your lawyer.

Defense Against Negligence

If the insurance company tries to deny payment of compensation for your injuries by accusing you of sharing negligence for the accident, your lawyer will help defend you. There are different approaches to defending against an accusation of negligence in North Carolina.

The best strategy for your case depends on the circumstances surrounding your accident, so your best course of action is to discuss your situation with an experienced drunk driving accident attorney.

Proximate Cause Doctrine

If the defendant has proven that part of the accident was caused by your own negligence, you can show the level of proximate cause for your injuries.

According to Legal Dictionary, proximate cause means that your injuries were a reasonably predictable outcome of the defendant’s actions. Consider, for example, how driving while intoxicated vastly increases the driver’s likelihood of causing a collision that would cause injury to someone else.

Once the court sees that your negligence is less than the level of proximate cause, you will not be denied compensation under the contributory negligence law.

Last Clear Chance Doctrine

Another method of defense will still allow you to be compensated by the defendant if you can prove that the driver had the last clear chance to avoid the collision that caused your injuries but did not do so. You would have to prove the following for this doctrine to be successful:

  • You entered into a situation of danger that you could not reasonably escape from.
  • The defendant knew or could see your predicament of danger without an escape route.
  • The defendant had both the time and ability to avoid you in your dangerous situation in order to prevent causing you harm.
  • The defendant negligently did not use their time or ability that they had available to prevent causing you harm.

Gross Negligence Doctrine

If you can prove that the defendant caused the accident through willful or wanton negligence, you can still collect compensation. To prove willful or wanton negligence, you have to show that the defendant was intentionally disregarding the safety of others.

Such proof could involve that the defendant planned to drive after the consumption of alcohol because they knowingly became intoxicated without a designated driver.

Accident Mechanics

Another way for insurance companies to deny your claim for injury is through the amount of damage sustained by your vehicle. Their argument would be that you could not have possibly suffered injuries from a crash that caused so little damage to your car.

If your car only has minor damage from the collision, but you were left with severe injuries, the insurance company will often deny your personal injury claim.

This type of denial is difficult to dispute. You will have to file a lawsuit against the company and provide expert witnesses to prove that high-impact collisions can result in only minor damage to some vehicles while the force of the impact would still severely injure you.

No Medical Treatment for Your Injuries

If you need but do not seek medical attention quickly after your accident, insurance companies will deny any claims for injuries. People sometimes avoid medical care because they:

  • Have no health insurance.
  • Cannot afford care.
  • Do not understand the severity of their injuries and wait to get better without care.

Medical evaluation and treatment are proof for your claims for injuries, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and medical expenses. Without this proof, it is easy for insurance companies to deny any compensation.

If you seek medical attention after too much time has passed, the company will argue that your injuries were caused after your accident and that they are not required to reimburse you for your claims.

No Injuries

Not every collision involves damage or injury. There is no reason to seek compensation for something that did not happen.

Personal injury claims are meant to reimburse you for expenses that resulted from the accident. If there were no expenses, there would be no compensation.

Unreasonable Expectations

There are times when the insurance company will offer a reasonable settlement, but the victim is looking for compensation that is above and beyond what their case is worth.

Compensation is meant to restore the victim to the state they were in before the accident; it is not meant to make someone rich.

Large payouts are due to the victim’s serious or permanent injuries and possibly punitive damages. The victim truly had to suffer to receive such compensation. Minor accidents simply do not warrant the same settlements that a major collision could receive.

It is also possible that the victim was seriously injured in the accident, but not at the direct fault of the other driver. The driver would not be found at fault for more than the harm that was caused within the law.

For example, it is not the driver’s fault that the victim was ejected from the vehicle because they were not wearing a seatbelt. The victim legally should have been wearing a seatbelt and was therefore at fault for the severity of their injuries by their own negligence.

No Insurance

North Carolina requires all drivers to carry minimum insurance coverage, but some drivers either allow their insurance to expire or they do not purchase it. If this is the case, you have the option to turn to your own insurance policy for uninsured motorist coverage.

The at-fault driver is still responsible for compensating you for all damages they caused, but it’s possible that they cannot afford it.

You have the right to file a lawsuit against the driver, but this often takes time, so you should check with your insurance company first in order to get your bills paid to prevent damage to your credit. A drunk driving accident lawyer can guide you to your best options in every circumstance.

Contact a Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Today

Navigating the legal system can be challenging. A personal injury lawyer who specializes in drunk driving accidents will help you decide the best course of action for your case.

There are many ways for insurance companies to try to get out of paying for your accident-related expenses. The attorneys at Tatum & Atkinson know all their tricks and how to combat their strategies.

Call us at (800) LAW-0804 for a free consultation. We will get you all the compensation you are legally entitled to receive as quickly as possible.