You're driving downtown on West Market, minding your own business, when a pedestrian suddenly runs out in front of your car. You slam on your brakes and hope that the car following you doesn't hit you. You're not so lucky. You narrowly avoid hitting the pedestrian, but your car and the car that rear-ended you are seriously damaged, and your back and neck are starting to hurt.
If you've been in an accident in Greensboro, you may not have even thought about how you're going to pay for the damage to your vehicle and potential injuries. But car accidents are often expensive, and someone has to foot the bill. That's why each state has laws about who's required to pay for accidents, including insurance requirements and negligence laws. This article explains some North Carolina laws that may relate to your Greensboro car accident, as well as local court information. Whether you're filing an insurance claim, a lawsuit or both, you will find answers to important questions about the legal aspects of your car accident here.
Understanding North Carolina's Contributory Negligence Rule
Under the law of negligence, if someone acts carelessly and causes an accident which results in property damage or injury to another person, the careless party is liable for the damage he caused. Liability refers to legal responsibility for paying for the cost of the damage resulting from an accident or injury.
North Carolina is one of the few states that still uses the common law rule of contributory negligence in its negligence cases. This rule states that anyone who shares the fault in an accident or injury cannot recover payment for damage or injury from another person at fault. For example, if Peggy and Dave are in a car accident and the court finds that Peggy is 10% at fault and Dave is 90% at fault, Peggy cannot recover any money from Dave for the damage to her vehicle or her person, even though Peggy's portion of fault is relatively minor compared to Dave's portion.
North Carolina's contributory negligence rule makes proving fault in an accident in Greensboro extremely important. In a lawsuit, a party found to have even a small fraction of fault for an accident is barred from recovery under this rule. Establishing fault is important for insurance claims as well.
Filing an Insurance Claim in North Carolina
Most Greensboro residents know that North Carolina requires its drivers to carry minimum liability insurance for all vehicles registered in the state. The mandatory minimum coverage is as follows:
- $30,000 for injuries or death of a single individual,
- $60,000 for injuries or deaths of multiple people in a single accident, and
- $25,000 for property damage.
North Carolina is a "tort state" rather than a "no-fault state," as related to car insurance. In "tort states," the at-fault driver is liable for the damage caused by an accident, including costs associated with injuries to others. As a result, a person who sustained damage in an accident and who was not at fault has a few options for recovery.
First, she can file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver's insurer. Second, she can file a claim with her own insurance company, which will then try to collect from the at-fault driver or his insurance company. Finally, she can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver in order to recover money for losses resulting from the accident.
Any time a person files an insurance claim for an accident involving fault, an insurance adjuster is appointed to determine whose fault the accident was. This determination is of vital importance legally, and may be a complicated question.
Collecting Evidence to Prove Fault
An insurance adjuster will use all of the evidence available to him or her to make a determination of fault. That's why it's important to collect as much evidence related to your accident as possible. This could include statements of witnesses, photographs of the scene and of property damage, plus medical records and police reports.
A police report is not only helpful for a dispute in liability down the road; an accident report is required by law in certain circumstances. North Carolina requires drivers involved in an accident to report the accident either to the DMV or to law enforcement if the accident resulted in death, injury, or property damage over $1,000. If police are at the scene, they will file a report, which will save you the hassle of having to report the accident later. For more information about what to do after a car accident, including what evidence to collect, check out FindLaw's article After a Car Accident: First Steps.
Filing a Lawsuit in Greensboro
Most people who are involved in car accidents choose to exhaust their insurance options before filing a lawsuit to recover money for their losses. However, it's not necessary to file an insurance claim before you file a lawsuit against a person or persons who you believe are at fault for your accident. For court information in Greensboro, take a look at FindLaw's resource page for Greensboro Courthouses.
Because of North Carolina's strict contributory negligence rule, you may wish to consider consulting an attorney before you move forward with your Greensboro lawsuit. Remember, if a judge or jury finds you to be even slightly at fault for the accident, you will be barred from recovery.
"Damages" is a term that refers to the money you can recover in a civil lawsuit based on personal injury. The damages you claim affect what court you'll file your lawsuit in. If you claim damages less than $5,000, you will file with small claims court. For damages less than $10,000, you will file with the Guilford County District Court. If you're claiming damages of $10,000 or more, you'll file your case with the Guilford County Superior Court. FindLaw has a comprehensive section on injury damages if you'd like to learn more.