Contributory Negligence May Bar Your Claim

North Carolina is one of only four jurisdictions in the United States, including Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, where an injured party’s claim against a careless driver may be completely barred by his or her own negligence. For example, if another driver is inattentive, runs a red light and collides with your vehicle, a jury could conclude that you “contributed” to your injury by entering the intersection when you knew, or should have known, that it was dangerous to do so.

That’s right! Most drivers don’t know that even if you have a green light governing your lane of travel, you do not automatically have a right to enter that intersection. Despite having a green light, a driver nonetheless has a duty to keep a reasonable lookout. If a reasonable person could have perceived that it was dangerous to enter an intersection because another driver is driving carelessly, a driver may not enter that intersection even though he or she has the right of way.

Contributory negligence also commonly bars slip and fall cases because property owners have a duty to warn others only about hidden defects. Typically, contributory negligence applies in instances when someone slips on snow or ice, and the snow or ice is readily apparent, putting them on notice that conditions are rife for slipping. Contributory negligence also may bar slip and fall claims in less obvious circumstances, such as defects in stairs or walkways. For example, claims based on tripping on obviously broken or uneven sidewalks usually are dismissed.

North Carolina’s law of contributory negligence often leads to disappointing results in liability suits. Stay alert of your surroundings to avoid injury and drive defensively. Remember that no one looks after you better than you do.