Little in life is black and white. Most things are gray, including liability for personal injuries or auto accidents. Almost half of the time, multiple cars are involved in a car accident, which means there’s often more than one person responsible.
The law recognizes this reality and responds accordingly. However, as personal injury cases are a matter of state law, there are differences from one jurisdiction to the next.
Here, we review how North Carolina and Virginia handle instances when multiple people are at fault for an injury. They use an old “contributory negligence” scheme, which stands in contrast to the modern “comparative fault” rules.
Contributory negligence in Virginia and North Carolina
Virginia and North Carolina are among the few states that still use a contributory negligence scheme. Contributory negligence is a harsh rule. In practice, it often means that injured persons can’t recover for damages after an accident.
Under North Carolina and Virginia law, if an injured person’s behavior contributes to their injury in any way, then they cannot recover. Even if another party is 99% at fault for an accident, the remaining 1% is enough to deny injured Virginians and North Carolinians recovery.
There is, however, one important exception to this rule for common carriers in Virginia. Common carriers are businesses or other entities that transport people or goods from one place to another for a fee.
If a common carrier violates a safety code and someone is injured, then Virginia law does not consider contributory negligence. In this event, even if the injured parties contribute to their injuries in some way, they can still recover damages.
Comparative fault in the United States
As a point of comparison, most states use some form of comparative fault rules. Comparative fault is a modern approach that has evolved over time, as contributory negligence rules have produced some unjust outcomes.
Comparative fault is straightforward and exactly what it sounds like. When multiple people are at fault for an injury, judges and juries determine each driver’s liability as a percentage. Then they apportion damage awards accordingly.
For example, say an injured person is 20% responsible for their own injury and another party is 80% at fault. Under comparative negligence rules, the plaintiff’s overall damage award will be reduced by 20%.
Finally, some states use a “modified” comparative fault approach. In these jurisdictions, if injured parties are more than 50% responsible for their own injuries, then they cannot recover any damages. If they’re less than 50% responsible, then the comparative rules kick in, and damages are awarded in proportion to liability.
Personal injury attorneys can help car accident victims recover
No matter where you are, you need an attorney for your personal injury or auto accident case. In North Carolina or Virginia, call Hunter & Everage to talk about how you can avoid losing your care because of a claim of contributory negligence. When liability as little as 1% can cost you your chance to recover damages, you can’t afford to take any chances. Contact us today.