State lawmakers are preparing to vote on legislation that will impact anyone who is hurt in a car accident or suffers a personal injury that is someone else’s fault.
North Carolina is one of only four states that allow the doctrine of contributory negligence as a defense in auto accident and other personal injury cases. Contributory negligence is a harsh and outdated way of denying help to people hurt in accidents. Under current law, if you’re even 1 percent responsible for an accident, you CANNOT recover damages from the person who injured you, even if that person is 99 percent at fault.
HB 813 seeks to correct that injustice by switching from contributory negligence to comparative fault. Under the comparative fault doctrine, juries determine how much fault lies with each party in the accident and then award damages based on those percentages. The injured party is allowed to recover only that percentage of damage caused by the other person. Under the much fairer comparative fault standard, an injured person would still be able to collect a percentage of an insurance settlement to cover medical bills and compensate for injuries. Now, these victims get nothing.
It could happen to you or someone you love.
Imagine that you’re driving home after picking up your child from school or coming home from a dinner date with your spouse. You have the green light, but just as you’re crossing through the intersection, another car runs the red light. You see their headlights and you know the other driver isn’t going to stop. But in the nanoseconds leading up to the crash, you don’t swerve and you don’t blow your horn. Because all you can think about is your loved one.
The other driver’s insurance company will argue that because you saw the car coming, and didn’t do anything to prevent the collision, you were partially at fault for the accident. Because of contributory negligence, that’s enough to kill your claim and leave you saddled with medical bills resulting from the crash. All while the other driver’s insurance company gets off scot-free.
How little can 1 percent be? In North Carolina, insurance companies have used contributory negligence to deny auto accident claims because the injured person:
- Failed to honk when passing another vehicle that sideswiped them
- Failed to look both ways when passing through an intersection with a green light and then was T-boned by another car whose driver ran a red light
- Failed to slam on the brakes in the seconds before another car slammed into theirs
Though someone else was clearly at fault in each of these examples, the victims weren’t able to collect insurance payments for their injuries because they were slightly responsible for these accidents. Does that seem fair?
We don’t think so either. That’s why we’re asking you to call, email or write your elected officials in the N.C. Senate and tell them to SUPPORT HB 813! The bill has already been approved by the state House, and the state Senate is expected to vote on the measure during the current session of the North Carolina General Assembly.
It’s very important that you let your state senators know how you feel and how you want them to vote on this bill. The insurance industry is lobbying them aggressively to keep the current doctrine of contributory negligence. They’re twisting the facts, spreading misinformation and spending thousands every week on an advertising campaign aimed at killing HB 813.
You may have heard their radio commercials claiming that automobile insurance rates will go up if the proposed legislation becomes law. That’s simply not true. Insurance lobbyists are distorting the truth to protect their industry’s profits at the expense of what’s fair for everyone.
Before neighboring states South Carolina and Tennessee switched from contributory negligence to comparative fault, auto insurance premiums were much higher there than in North Carolina. Since the change, premiums in those states have increased at a much slower rate than premiums in North Carolina.
The insurance companies also assert that more accident claims will be paid if this new law passes. We certainly hope that’s the case because accident victims in North Carolina have too long been denied fair compensation for their injuries. It’s important to remember that with comparative fault, victims won’t be getting money they don’t deserve. Insurance settlements will be determined by each person’s level of fault.
Victims finally will be getting the justice they deserve after more than a century of unfairness under contributory negligence, a standard designed to protect insurers at the expense of suffering people.
Finally, we have a chance to protect the victims of personal injuries.
Please, contact your elected officials today and ask them to support HB 813. Tell them that current law is too harsh and needs to be reformed. You’ll find contact information for North Carolina’s state senators at the end of this letter.
Thanks for your help in passing this much-needed reform that protects injured people. This is a law that could impact all of us