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Contributory Negligence

Position:  NCCBl firmly supports the current system of Contributory Negligence, which has worked well and generally kept settlement, judgments, and recoveries at a reasonable level. Any change to some type of Comparative Fault erodes the economic well-being of the State by increasing costs.

Explanation: For well over 100 years, North Carolina has followed the doctrine of Contributory Negligence in so-called tort or negligence cases. Simply stated, this doctrine holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages in a negligence suit if his own negligence was one of the direct causes of the injury. Where the negligence of the plaintiff is clear-cut, the presiding judge will dismiss the plaintiffs suit as a matter of law. For example, under present law, if a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road collides with a speeding vehicle in the opposite lane, the court would dismiss any lawsuit by the drunk driver because of his clearly negligent conduct. On the other hand, under the doctrine of Comparative Fault, the judge would be compelled to submit the case to the jury. That fact alone gives substantial value to otherwise valueless claims.

The impetus for Comparative Fault legislation has come almost exclusively from state and national associations of plaintiffs' attorneys specializing in negligence practice. From the point of view of these groups, there are more and larger recoveries under Comparative Fault.

Private cost studies conducted in North Carolina in 1983, 1985, and 1989 by professors at the School of Business at UNC-G indicate that automobile liability claims alone under the Comparative Fault doctrine would add between $118 million and $245 million (24 to 32% higher) annually to premium costs, and more recent figures would increase that figure. More recent data from a study conducted in the State of Maryland confirmed the substantial costs that would be imposed by a change to comparative fault. Many more millions would be paid out in settlements and judgments by homeowners, merchants, manufacturers, doctors, and many other professionals and self-insurers. Some other groups that would be vitally and adversely affected by Comparative Fault would be the counties, cities, school boards, and even employees of the state.

An article in the State Legislatures, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, assert that a state's civil justice environment is a substantiai element in rating its business climate. North Carolina's recent success in economic development has resulted, in part, from our current civil justice system.

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