Contributory Negligence Holds on for Dear Life in NC

As this is a blog about North Carolina law, it probably makes sense to talk occasionally about issues which are different in North Carolina from most states. For example, North Carolina is one of the few states which states that if an individual is injured via the actions of a negligent defendant; that individual can be completely barred from recovery if the defendant can establish that the individual was in anyway negligent in their own way. Known as contributory negligence, this archaic practice remains in only 4 of the United States.

Contributory vs comparative negligence

Now, your initial thinking has to be – okay both sides are negligent, the plaintiff gets nothing; that makes sense. But, what if the Plaintiff is only 5% at fault? Or 1% at fault? Under North Carolina law, the Plaintiff would recover nothing. The standard of law is called contributory negligence and although it is great for businesses – particularly insurance companies – it’s tough for plaintiffs.

Most states have a “comparative negligence” standard. This standard reduces Plaintiffs’ recovery based on the percentage for which they are at fault for an accident. For example, in a 100,000.00 settlement, a plaintiff who is 10% at fault would forfeit the same percentage of damages. In that case, 10% of 100,000 is 10,000, leaving the total at 90,000.

Critics of the comparative negligence standard say that it is confusing, difficult to apply, and that it has cooties. All fair points, and thus far it has held up. However, there is apparently some traction in having North Carolina revisit this standard. This is definitely something for business owners who have some risk of job-related accidents involved in their profession to keep their eyes on.

Maginnis Law, PLLC is a Raleigh, NC litigation law firm representing businesses – and certain individuals – in litigation matters. The firm also practices in Cary, Wake Forest, Morrisville and the rest of the Research Triangle area. Contact the firm at (919) 526-0450 or by email at