Contributory negligence is a legal term of art. It refers to the idea that if a person is in any way responsible for his own accident, he cannot sue someone else for negligence, even if the other person was careless.
To give a practical example, in a case where police determine that one driver caused an accident by running a stop sign but the other driver contributed by being drunk and speeding, it may be hard for either to get compensation in a negligence since they both contributed to the accident.
Most states have abandoned the idea of contributory negligence in favor of other system, but not North Carolina. In North Carolina, if an injured victim is even slightly responsible for his own injury, then he cannot receive compensation from the negligent party.
The good news is that there are some limits to this rule. For one, the person who wants to claim he should not have to pay compensation because of a victim’s contributory negligence has to prove that claim to the satisfaction of the judge or jury.
Another important rule is that children under 7 are, legally speaking, not capable of being negligent. This means that if a small child gets hurt in, for example, a pedestrian accident, it is going to be easier to prove that the driver is legally responsible and thus must pay compensation.
Children that are older, up to 14 years old, may be subject to the contributory negligence doctrine, but the assumption is that they are not.
Personal injury cases must be investigated thoroughly
For victims who may be the target of a contributory negligence defense, it will be critical for the to investigate the accident thoroughly and have a full understanding of both the law and the facts.
Those responsible for the victims’ injuries, or their insurance carriers, may try to grab any possible shred of evidence to show that the victim was responsible for her own injury and, thus, is owed nothing.
A rock-solid investigation can help establish that the victim of a serious injury, like trauma to the brain or spinal cord, should receive the compensation that they will likely need to survive financially.
Even child victims will need legal protection
Even a case that involves a victim who is under 14 will require handling in order to be sure that the victim and his family get the compensation they deserve.
Insurance companies have the option to claim that a child over 7 indeed showed contributory negligence and thus cannot recover compensation.
Moreover, even for injuries to small children, there can be a significant dispute over how much compensation the responsible party owes, particularly after a debilitating or other permanent injury.