There’s been discussion among industry insiders about the low auto insurance rates paid by consumers in North Carolina and whether a raise in the rates might actually be a good thing in the long run. This might come as a surprise to drivers in the state given that North Carolinians currently enjoy some of the lowest car insurance rights in the country.
According to a survey by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, drivers in the state pay the eighth lowest amount in the country behind Maine, Idaho and five states in the Midwest. Another survey, from Insure.com, says that the state is doing in even better, coming in at the fifth lowest auto premiums in 2012.
However, the reason for the low rates reveals that it’s not all good news. Some of the reasons are great: good roads, good traffic enforcement and low population density are all contributing factors. However, a bigger reason is that North Carolina is one of only a few states with laws on the book that make it harder to win personal injury lawsuits by evaluating whether an injured person had a role to play.
In North Carolina, the law says that if you are even one percent at fault, you might as well be 100% at fault. That’s because unlike most states, North Carolina follows an old common law rule known as contributory negligence. Under this approach, when a person is found to have any responsibility at all for his or her injuries, that person is then barred from recovering damages for those injuries. That means, that if a person is responsible in the smallest way for an accident, the defendant will avoid having to pay anything for the harm they caused. There are a few ways around this strict rule, including if the defendant acted in a willful or wanton manner or if the defendant had the last chance to avoid an accident and failed to do so. Currently only three other states and the District of Columbia follow the contributory negligence approach.
The vast majority of states use some version of a comparative negligence system where the amount a plaintiff can recover is reduced according to the percentage they are found to be at fault. For instance, if a plaintiff is found to be 10% responsible for an accident and the defendant is found to be 90% responsible, the total damage award will be reduced by 10%.
There have been several attempts to change the outdated system used in North Carolina, including last year’s vote in the House in favor of a bill replacing the contributory negligence system with a modified comparative negligence system. Though the House passed the bill, it failed to get the necessary votes in the Senate due to language inserted by legislators friendly to the insurance industry.
Though reform might sound painful in terms of possible rising rates, the benefits for drivers would be tremendous. Moreover, though insurance lobbyists insist that rates will rise dramatically if the negligence system is ever changed, that has not been the case in other states that have adopted comparative negligence systems. While it may benefit the insurance industry, the contributory negligence standard does not benefit injured victims in North Carolina.
If you, or someone you know, have any questions regarding personal injury claims, it is best to contact experienced Charlotte, North Carolina personal injury lawyers like those at Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation. Call at 704-370-2828.
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