In a negligence action, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty to commit an act or refrain from committing an act; the defendant breached their duty; the breach of the duty caused an injury to the plaintiff; the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the injury and the plaintiff suffered damages.
Pure Contributory Negligence
North Carolina is one of the few states that continues to follow a pure contributory negligence standard in negligence actions. Pure contributory negligence completely bars a plaintiff from monetary recovery if the plaintiff contributed in any way to their injury. This means that even if the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff was as little as 1%, recovery is barred.
Per Newton v. New Hanover County Bd. Of Educ., 342 N.C. 554 (1996), a plaintiff is contributorily negligent when he fails to exercise such care as an ordinarily prudent person would exercise under the circumstances to avoid injury.
Joint & Several Liability
As seen in Young v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 266 N.C. 458, 465, 146 S.E.2d 441, 446 (1966), North Carolina holds tortfeasors jointly and severally liable for a plaintiff’s injuries. In Young, the court held that, “there may be two or more proximate causes of an injury. These may originate from separate and distinct sources or agencies operating independently of each other, yet if they join and concur in producing the result complained of, the author of each cause would be liable for the damages inflicted, and action may be brought against any one or all as joint tortfeasors.”
This means that in an action where multiple defendants are found to have been liable for a plaintiff’s injury, all parties are potentially responsible for paying the full amount of the damages awarded. However, where one defendant has paid more than their proportional share of liability that defendant has the right to seek contribution against any other joint defendant who has not paid their proportional share.
Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the defendant(s). The award is meant to restore the plaintiff – as much as possible – to the condition they were in prior to the injury occurring.
Compensatory damages are based on:
- The extent and duration of the injury
- Physical pain and emotional distress
- Medical expenses
- Loss of earnings
Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff. According to North Carolina General Statutes, Punitive damages may be awarded only if the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is liable for compensatory damages and that one of the following aggravating factors was present and was related to the injury for which compensatory damages were awarded:
- Actual Fraud
- Willful or wanton conduct
In North Carolina, punitive damages awarded against a defendant shall not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages, or $250,000, whichever is greater.
The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.
By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in North Carolina. Should you have a question/concern specific to North Carolina law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of North Carolina.