The question of who was at fault for a car accident can have serious consequences. Car accidents in North Carolina have serious consequences in terms of medical treatment for injuries, pain, suffering, and damage to vehicles. In NC, if someone is determined to have been even partially (think 1% out of 100%) at fault (contributory negligence) for the car accident, they will likely be unable to recover against the other party that may have been mostly or almost totally responsible (think 99% out of 100%). Negligence is not always clear cut or based solely on what an accident report says. If you have questions about negligence in an injury car accident it is a good idea to consider speaking to an attorney before speaking to the insurance company.
At Auger & Auger, our personal injury and auto accident law firm is dedicated to helping those who have been harmed in traffic accidents and other types of accidents because of someone else’s negligence. With more than 25 years of legal experience in this field and millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts obtained for our clients, we have the know-how, skills, resources and commitment to help you. We understand the important issues involved in your North Carolina car accident, including the matters of negligence, fault and liability, which are critical in an bodily injury insurance claim.
Let a car accident attorney in Asheville represent your case to pursue a liability claim against the at-fault drivers responsible for your injuries. Below are some of the general thoughts about determining fault and increase your chances of successfully obtaining a settlement or court award.
How Fault Is Legally Determined After a North Carolina Car Accident
In the state of North Carolina, a police officer should be called to the scene of any accident that causes injury, death, or more than $1,000 in property damage. Some attorneys may even advise you that no matter how much damage or how small your injuries may be, it is a best practice to always contact the police after an accident. Having an official record of the accident is extremely helpful in pursuing a claim against the other driver. While at the scene, the officer will gather information from all persons involved as well as any eyewitnesses to the accident. They will also look at physical evidence available at the accident scene, such as weather conditions, tire marks, vehicle debris, or other relevant findings.
The police officer will then file a crash report containing all of the most important information needed to describe the accident. In this report, they may note whether certain drivers made a mistake or had underlying conditions that directly contributed to the accident. For instance, one of the drivers may have been speeding or was under the influence of alcohol at the time the crash happened, causing a crash to occur. Other examples may include failing to yield or disregarding traffic signs.
Police investigators may also look at key details of the accident to determine things like: who hit whom, were traffic signs ignored, was someone likely not paying attention, and more. When a police officer can determine that a certain driver’s mistakes or illegal maneuvers contributed to a crash, they may also at their discretion issue a citation to that driver. This citation is not proof of “fault,” since fault must be determined in a court of law, but it can point to the fact that the driver contributed directly to the accident by way of their actions, presenting them as likely to be considered at fault for the accident, which is information that the driver’s insurance company will take into account when they make a liability determination. Please note that fault is a legal concept that may be determined by a court of law, however many injury cases caused by car accidents do not result in having to go to court. In the majority of cases that we see, an insurance company will usually make a liability determination without having to involve the court.
How Insurers Assign Fault After an Accident
Many times, a driver will assume fault — either voluntarily or by not contesting a citation they were issued. If their liability insurer agrees that their insured is at fault, then the injured parties can bring forth a personal injury claim against the at fault driver for their resulting damages as opposed to having to go to court and prove the issue of liability. Keep in mind that the issue of liability needs to be resolved prior to any discussion regarding the amount of compensation that someone may be entitled to. Again – speak to an experienced accident lawyer before speaking to the insurance company!
If a driver or their insurer wants to dispute fault or liability, an investigation may be carried out before the matter of fault can be resolved. The results of a police investigation (police report) will likely contribute to the findings of the insurance company’s own private investigation, and the findings will most likely result in an insurance company either accepting or denying fault and liability for the accident damages.
If an insurance company denies liability or if an investigation proves inconclusive or multiple insurance company’s complete investigations that contradict one another, an injured party’s recourse may be limited to filing a lawsuit so that the court can conclusively determine fault. Again, it is important to consult with an attorney about your options in such a situation. Based on the facts and the evidence an attorney will be able to advice you of your chances of success at trial.
The Relationship Between Fault, Liability, and Negligence
North Carolina’s civil procedure laws establish that those at-fault for an incident that causes damages to victims will be liable for all directly-related damages — meaning that the at-fault party must pay for these costs, either out of pocket or through their insurer.
If someone defending against liability says they did not intend to cause the incident, then they could still be held liable if they were negligent. “Negligence,” in this case, refers to a legal principle that shows the defendant acted in a way contrary to how a ‘reasonable person” would, based on their understanding of laws or exercising “ordinary care” to avoid risks.
For instance, a driver who did not check their blind spot before changing lanes, thereby causing an accident, may claim they did not break the law because they checked their mirrors, used their blinker, and acted as a reasonable person might. However, a “reasonable person” would remember that mirrors do not cover their blind spot, so the driver was expected to physically turn their head before assuming the maneuver was safe. In this case, the careless driver could be found to have been negligent and liable for resulting damages.
Contributory Negligence in North Carolina
North Carolina state laws operate under a “contributory negligence” standard. This standard says that anyone who partially contributed to an accident that caused their injury is not eligible to recover any damages from other partially at-fault parties. Even if someone else is 99% responsible for the incident, that 1% of fault contributed by the injury victim is enough to negate their potential to receive a settlement, in most instances.
Because of this statute, many at-fault parties will attempt to shirk liability by claiming that injury victims contributed to the car accident and, thereby, their own injuries. Essentially a defendant, may try to use the contributory negligence defense to avoid paying property and bodily injury claims. If this happens, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced lawyer before assuming that you do not have additional options.
With an experienced attorney’s knowledge of applicable laws and familiarity with the injury claims process, you may be able to overcome the issue of contributory negligence and recover damages.
Contact an Asheville Injury Attorney to Discuss Your Injuries
Give us a call for a free case evaluation because our injury attorneys may be able to help you! Let us review the facts of your case along with your police reports, eyewitness statements, physical evidence, and other important evidence. If you hire our firm, we will manage the contact to the insurance companies, limiting the chances that will you say or do something that unknowingly hurts your case. Call us before you call the insurance company!
Contact a North Carolina car accident lawyer at Auger & Auger today to schedule your free, no obligation case evaluation.