In North Carolina personal injury cases, the recovery of damages is prohibited if the plaintiff (the person who is injured) is even partially at fault. This is called contributory negligence. Every state handles the issue of contributory negligence a bit differently, and North Carolina is one of the most unfavorable to plaintiffs in this regard.
Defendants in North Carolina injury lawsuits will press hard on the issue of contributory negligence because if they can prove it, they’ve won their case. That’s why your Greensboro personal injury attorney has to be prepared.
In the recent case of Daisy v. Yost, the dispute arose from a Greensboro car accident. Although the two parties stipulated damages prior to trial, they did not agree on the issue of who was at fault, and specifically whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent for his own injuries.
According to court records, the plaintiff was approaching the intersection while traveling at the posted speed limit with the intent to continue going straight. Meanwhile, the defendant was approaching that same intersection from the opposite direction with the intention to make a left turn across the plaintiff’s lane of travel. When the plaintiff got to the intersection, the light had changed from green to yellow. When the defendant arrived in her turn lane, the light had changed from a flashing yellow arrow to a solid yellow arrow. The plaintiff then proceeded to continue straight through the intersection, while the defendant made a left turn in front of the plaintiff’s vehicle. The front of the defendant’s vehicle hit the side of the plaintiff’s vehicle (t-boned it), causing the plaintiff’s car to be pushed into a nearby light post near the corner of the intersection.
The plaintiff then filed a car accident lawsuit, seeking damages for personal injuries and property damage. The plaintiff moved for a directed verdict on the issue of contributory negligence. That is, she wanted the judge to make a ruling that she was not contributorily negligent, prior to the issue being in the jury’s hands. The judge denied this motion, and the question was submitted to the jury. The jury returned with a finding that while the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of the crash, the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing the crash. Now, in other jurisdictions, this would mean the jury would be asked to decide by how much the plaintiff’s damages should be reduced (comparable to her own negligence). But in North Carolina, which adheres to a principle of pure contributory negligence, it meant the defendant won the case.
The plaintiff appealed. He made a number of arguments, including that there was no evidence to support the jury instruction on the issue of contributory negligence. The judge should have simply granted a directed verdict on the issue.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals agreed. There was not sufficient evidence here to warrant a jury instruction on the issue of contributory negligence. The courts define contributory negligence as negligence on the part of a plaintiff that joins, simultaneously or successively, with the negligence of the defendant to produce the plaintiff’s injury. The general rule is that a directed verdict for contributory negligence can only be granted when the evidence establishes that negligence so clearly that no other reasonable inference or conclusion can be drawn. But there has to be more than a scintilla of evidence to support the non-movant’s case on the issue. In other words, the non-moving party has to be given the benefit of the doubt.
In this case, there was not more than a scintilla of evidence that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. The only evidence the defendant presented that the plaintiff was in any way negligent was testimony from a witness who said it looked like the plaintiff was “driving fast” through the intersection. However, that witness also later conceded he wasn’t actually watching the plaintiff before the crash and based this opinion on the way the car bounced off the light post after the crash. Furthermore, the plaintiff had presented evidence to show he was traveling at the posted speed limit of 35 mph. When the signal changed from green to yellow, he determined he couldn’t safely stop before the light turned red and continued to proceed through the intersection at the same speed while the light was still yellow.
The defense evidence in this case did not amount to more than a scintilla of evidence to indicate the plaintiff was contributorily negligent in causing the collision, even in the light most favorable to the defendant driver here. Therefore, the judge should have granted a directed verdict on this issue.
Furthermore, since the jurors determined the defendant was negligent in causing the plaintiff’s damages, and both parties had already agreed on the damages, the appellate court remanded with an order to enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff for that amount of damages.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Daisy v. Yost, Dec. 6, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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Fatal School Bus Crash: Can District Be Liable for Driver’s Intentional Tort? Dec. 12, 2016, Greensboro Car Accident Lawyer Blog