Proving Fault in North Carolina Car Accidents

If you were injured in a car accident, you may be certain that the other driver was at fault. However, even if the other driver made a mistake or broke the law, that may not be enough to hold them financially responsible for your injuries. Learn what it takes to prove fault in a North Carolina car accident case.

How Do You Prove Fault in a Car Accident Case?

Under North Carolina law, you will usually need to show that the other driver's negligence caused a car accident in order to recover damages (compensation) in a personal injury lawsuit. Often, you will also need to prove that your own negligence did not contribute to causing the accident.

The elements of proving negligence are: the other driver had a duty of care, they breached that duty, the breach resulted in injury, and the injury caused damages.

All drivers share the same basic duty of care: maintaining control of their vehicle, paying proper attention and following the rules of the road. In order to successfully recover damages in a North Carolina auto accident injury case, you will need to demonstrate that the other driver breached his or her duty and that the breach of duty caused the accident.

Evidence of Fault in a Car Accident Case

If you file an insurance claim, your insurance company will review the evidence in your case and determine who was at fault. If you file a lawsuit and the case is not settled before it goes to trial, a judge and/or jury will determine fault.

Fault can be demonstrated using evidence such as police reports, witness statements, drivers' statements, video recordings or photographs of the scene. Traffic laws that are relevant to the accident may also be considered--for example, did the accident occur because the other driver was speeding, intoxicated or ran a red light?

Some drivers are subject to additional regulations and responsibilities. For example, if the other party was driving a commercial vehicle (such as a large van or a semi-truck), there are additional regulations with which must be complied. If the other driver violated commercial driver regulations, that may help you prove he or she was at fault in a car accident injury case.

North Carolina is a Contributory Negligence State

Proving fault in North Carolina is particularly important because this is a contributory negligence state.

In most other states, you may be able to recover some damages after a car accident, even if you were partially responsible for the accident. However, North Carolina is one of very few states that completely bar recovery if the injured person was even slightly responsible for a car accident.

If you did one tiny thing wrong—not using a turn signal or going just a few miles per hour over the speed limit—that could be enough to completely bar recovery under North Carolina law.

Therefore, not only will you need to show that the other driver was at fault in a car accident case, you will likely need to defend yourself against claims that your negligence contributed to the accident.

Exceptions to North Carolina's Contributory Negligence Laws

There are some exceptions to the contributory negligence law that may be used to counter a claim that your negligence completely bars recovery of damages.

Last Clear Chance Doctrine

The "last clear chance" doctrine is one of the most complicated exceptions to North Carolina's contributory negligence laws. If the injured person can demonstrate that the defendant (the person being sued) had the "last clear chance" to avoid causing an accident, the defendant could potentially be found liable, regardless of the injured person's contributory negligence.

The elements of a "last clear chance" claim include:

  • The injured person was negligent but was unable to escape from the potentially dangerous situation caused by his or her negligence.
  • The defendant knew (or should have known) about the injured person's dangerous situation.
  • The defendant had the time and means to avoid injuring the other person.
  • The defendant negligently failed to avoid injuring the other person.

Consider the example of someone who commits a negligent act by running a red light. If the car stalls in the middle of the intersection, he or she would no longer be able to prevent an accident. If an oncoming driver should have seen the stalled vehicle and should have been able to brake before hitting it, the oncoming driver has the "last clear chance" to prevent an accident. If the oncoming driver negligently fails to brake in time (for example, he or she was texting or driving at twice the legal speed limit), the stalled driver's contributory negligence can potentially be excused.

Gross Negligence or Willful and Wanton Conduct

If the other party's actions were particularly egregious, that may also provide an exception to the contributory negligence rule.

Gross negligence occurs when someone acts with a conscious disregard of the safety of others. "Willful and wanton conduct" means someone has consciously and intentionally disregarded the safety of others in a way that he or she knew (or should have known) is likely to result in injury. For example, if someone purposely hits your car in a road rage incident, it might not matter that you were driving a few miles per hour over the speed limit or otherwise contributed to causing the accident. Your own negligence may be excused due to the other party's "willful or wanton" conduct.

Age or Diminished Mental Capacity

If the injured person is young or has a diminished mental capacity, he or she may not be held to the same standard as a fully-functioning adult in terms of apportioning fault.

For example, if a four-year-old boy runs out into the street without looking and is hit by a speeding car, the child's negligence likely contributed to his injuries. However, the courts often assume that a child under a certain age doesn't have the capacity or knowledge to exercise the same level of care and attention as an adult. The same exception could potentially apply to an adult with cognitive impairments.

North Carolina Car Accident Attorneys

If you have been injured in a car accident, it is critically important that you are able to prove that the other driver was at fault and that you were not at fault. A knowledgeable car accident attorney can review the evidence in your case and help hold the other party responsible, so you can receive the fair and just compensation you deserve for your injuries. Contact Caulder & Valentine today.