North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Doctrine: Fault, Compensation, and Exceptions

Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What if the accident was my fault?”


In North Carolina, those who become injured in car accidents or other accidents must prove that another individual or entity was negligent in causing their injury in order to obtain compensation. However, since North Carolina follows the “contributory negligence” doctrine, you may be barred from recovering damages if you were partially at fault for the crash.

car-accident-Monroe-Waxhaw-Statesville-Personal-Injury-Lawyer-300x200Even if you have clear evidence proving that the other driver was negligent, it may still not be enough to hold the at-fault party liable for your personal injury. Since North Carolina is one of few states that still follow the contributory negligence doctrine, it is vital to be represented by a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to establish fault and help you obtain maximum compensation.


What Does North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Doctrine Mean?

While most states have already adopted comparative negligence laws, North Carolina is not one of them. North Carolina follows the contributory negligence doctrine when it comes to determining fault in personal injury cases.

What that means is that a victim who was injured in an accident may not receive any financial compensation if they contributed to their injury. Thus, if you were found to be even in a very small percentage negligent in your car crash, you will not be able to seek any compensation for your injury. In other words, victims are required to prove that the defendant was 100% at fault in order to be eligible for compensation.


Exceptions to the Contributory Negligence Rule in North Carolina

North Carolina law recognizes three exceptions to the contributory negligence doctrine.


Last Clear Chance

You may still obtain compensation for your injury if you can prove that the at-fault party had the “last clear chance” to avoid causing the accident. In North Carolina, you may qualify for the “last clear chance” exception if you can prove that the at-fault party:

  • was aware of the risk of causing harm to you;
  • could have avoided or minimized the risk through the last clear chance to do so;
  • failed to avoid causing your injury; and
  • you were injured and suffered financial losses due to the defendant’s negligence.


Gross Negligence / Willful and Wanton Conduct

Your case may also qualify for an exception to North Carolina’s contributory negligence law if it involves gross negligence or willful and wanton conduct.

Gross negligence refers to when a driver acts with conscious and voluntary disregard for the safety of other people. Meanwhile, willful and wanton conduct refers to the intentional or wanton disregard of the safety of others and involves a greater degree of negligence than gross negligence.


Age and Mental Incapacity

This exception to the contributory negligence law is based on the victim’s age and mental capacity. As its name implies, the exception is applicable when the injured person is either too young or lacking mental capacity.

If you need assistance with establishing fault in your vehicle crash or any other accident in North Carolina, contact our Charlotte personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to receive a consultation. Reach out to Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a consultation with one of our knowledgeable personal injury attorneys. Call (704) 370-2828 to receive a video or phone consultation with our lawyers to explore your legal options or fill out our contact form. Now taking cases throughout North Carolina with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville and Monroe.







The skilled personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to maximizing the financial recovery and obtaining justice for every personal injury client injured by another party’s negligence. The issues our personal injury clients may be facing include, but are not limited to, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, product liability, catastrophic injuries, dog bite claims, car and truck accident injuries, motorcycle injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), nursing home negligence, spinal cord injury, boating accidents, and defective medical device injury. Our personal injury attorneys understand the devastating impact such an injury can have on a person’s life, and that the effects so often go beyond physical pain and suffering. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to helping clients determine the strength of their claims, and to aggressively pursuing the means necessary to achieve the best possible end result for each client’s particular situation.






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