All states use some form of comparative negligence law when adjudicating auto accidents. Some states have changed to the more modern “pure” comparative negligence model, but most states actually use “modified” comparative negligence law at the 50% or 51% bar for personal fault. However, North Carolina is actually one of four states along with the District of Columbia that have set the personal negligence standard at any fault for a claim denial. This is known as “pure contributory negligence law.”
The history of pure contributory negligence law
For many decades, the United States civil court system only allowed personal injury claims when the negligent defendant was totally responsible for causing an injury stemming from an accident. The tide began to change when workers’ compensation law was enacted to protect workers from injury while earning a substantive living. With the popularity and necessity of automobiles, negligence policy then changed as a system similar to workers’ comp but more inclusive for serious injuries. Pure contributory negligence was the first form, which then later was changed to “modified comparative negligence” in two formats for most states.
Problems with pure contributory negligence
The first and most problematic issue with pure contributory negligence is that a party who is even 1% at fault for their own injury claim can be denied any compensation for injuries stemming from an accident. Conversely, this means that someone who is 99% responsible is not required to pay anything for the unacceptable behavior that led to the accident. Insurance companies often use this to their advantage.
This law also gives insurance companies an incentive to attack claimants in attempting to justify denying a claim. The pure contributory barrier is so low that forcing cases to court becomes the norm for defending insurance companies.