This article looks at a few key North Carolina laws related to car accident lawsuits and settlements, including time limits for filing a court case, and how your claim might be affected if you’re found to be partially at fault for causing the crash. Read on for the details.
North Carolina (like every state) has enacted laws that limit the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after you suffer some type of harm. These laws are called “statutes of limitations,” and different kinds of cases have different time limits. North Carolina’s relevant deadlines for car accident lawsuits are:
These time limits only apply to filing a lawsuit through the civil court system -- not to filing an insurance claim. However, if you're pursuing an insurance claim you should always factor in these deadlines. If the settlement process isn't working, you’ll want to have the option of filing a personal injury lawsuit in court. An insurance claims adjuster has little reason to negotiate with you if you can’t take your case to court (or at least threaten to do so), so you'll want to keep all of your options open.
If your accident involved the government and you want to get compensation (a city bus rear-ended you, for example), then the above deadlines won't apply to your case and you'll need to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops in order to preserve your rights. The first step will probably be filing a "notice of claim" with the government. Contact the agency that was involved in your accident and ask them about the claim procedure.
"Comparative fault" refers to the situation in which more than one party is to blame for causing an accident. North Carolina is one of the few states that still follows the doctrine known (in legalese) as “contributory negligence.” Under this extreme and often unfair system, in a car accident case you are completely barred from recovering any compensation if you have any share of fault for the accident.
This is important because not only does the contributory negligence rule bind North Carolina judges and juries (if you get to the stage of going to court), it will also guide an insurance claims adjuster when evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes his or her calculation based on what is likely to happen in court, so if it looks like you share any amount of blame or the accident, get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.
Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
An example will help explain how North Carolina's contributory negligence rule applies in real life. Let’s say you’re in a car accident where the other driver turned left directly in front of you, but it’s also determined that you were driving 7 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. After a civil trial, the jury determines that the other driver is 90% at fault, while the fact that you were speeding makes you 10% at fault. Under North Carolina’s contributory negligence rules, you are barred from recovering anything at all from the other driver. Change those numbers to 99% and 1%, and you are still barred. This antiquated rule is harsh and unforgiving, but you will not recover unless the other party is 100% at fault.
Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.
North Carolina laws on car insurance may also come into play after a car accident. For everything you need to know about car insurance in North Carolina -- including the minimum amounts of coverage required for registered vehicles in operation in the state -- check out our companion article Car Insurance Laws in North Carolina.