After a car accident in North Carolina, you might be wondering how the car accident settlement process might play out if you decide to make a claim for your injuries. So let's look at a hypothetical car accident injury claim in North Carolina, including discussion of how state laws might affect the timeline and the value of your car accident settlement.
Ashley is backing out of a space in a Chapel Hill parking lot when she is hit by a car coming pretty fast down the parking lane. The collision causes Ashley to hit her head on the window, and she feels woozy right away.
A police officer arrives at the car accident scene, and decides to call an ambulance for Ashley.
Note that since a police officer came to the scene, Ashley probably doesn't need to report the accident to law enforcement herself. Ordinarily, under North Carolina law, any crash in which someone is injured needs to be reported to:
Learn more about reporting a car accident.
X-rays at the hospital are negative, but the doctor diagnoses a concussion. He tells Ashley to rest and see her own doctor in a couple of days. After examining Ashley, her doctor prescribes continued rest. Learn about the importance of getting proper medical care after a car accident.
Ashley has headaches, which don't seem to be getting any better. After a month, the doctor refers her to a neurologist, who runs some tests, and tells Ashley that she has post-concussion syndrome, and that she will get better, but that it will take time. (Learn more about headaches after a car accident.)
Finally, after eight months, Ashley's headaches go away, and she is sleeping better.
Ashley is in the food service industry and had to stay out of work for four months because of her car accident injuries. When she tried going back, she learned that the restaurant where she worked had given her job to someone else. After a month of looking, Ashley was able to find another food service job.
First off, Ashley needs to be aware of North Carolina's statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for car accident injury lawsuits is three years. This means, if you were injured in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state's courts.
If you don't file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, you will probably lose your legal right to file it at all. Don't wait until the last minute. If you can't negotiate a car accident settlement well before the statute of limitations deadline expires, it may be time to contact an North Carolina car accident lawyer.
Ashley needs to keep in mind that North Carolina has a very strict rule regarding what an injured person can recover in court if they are found to be partially at fault for causing a car accident.
Under North Carolina's "contributory negligence" rule, you cannot receive money damages if you are found to have been even the slightest bit at fault in the accident. Even if you prove that the other driver was negligent, and you are only found to be 1% at fault, you can't recover anything.
The lesson here is that, in a case like Ashley's, where there may be a serious question as to whether she was herself negligent for pulling out of the parking space when it may not have been safe to do so, it is crucial to establish that the other driver was solely to blame for the accident. (Learn more about proving fault for a car accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under North Carolina's car insurance laws.
If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation (or when the other driver is uninsured), you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Ashley's case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $26,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Ashley and her attorney decide that another $40,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Ashley's pain and suffering in connection with the accident. However, they have to take into account the fact that Ashley may well be found partly at fault for the accident (which would cause her to lose the case outright, and receive nothing). With this in mind, they make an initial demand of $45,000 to settle the claim against the other driver. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Ashley accepts $20,000 as a final settlement.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don't want to settle it too early—meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI. In Ashley's case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle. Learn more about settling a car accident case.
Whether you're in the early stages of figuring out your options, or you've tried negotiating your car accident settlement yourself and run into complications, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional.
Learn more about finding and hiring the right car accident lawyer. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a North Carolina car accident attorney near you.