Contributory Negligence in Rear-End Accidents in North Carolina

carAn interesting unpublished 2013 appellate decision related to contributory negligence arising out of a rear-end car accident. The plaintiff sued the defendants, arguing that the accident happened as a direct result of their negligence. She voluntarily dismissed one of the defendants but took the other defendant to trial.

The case arose when the plaintiff and the defendant were driving southbound when the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff. The plaintiff had been driving at about 35 mph when she signaled to make a left turn. She was starting the turn when she was hit on the rear passenger side of her car. The defendant had been following the plaintiff and felt aggravated by the slow speed of the plaintiff, and she said that there was no turn signal when the plaintiff suddenly stopped. The defendant braked and turned right to try to avoid hitting the plaintiff.

After the crash, the plaintiff’s car went to the right of her driveway and moved through her yard before hitting trees and a deck and landing on its side. The impact resulted in the deployment of the airbags. The windshield shattered. The plaintiff’s body was pushed back, while her head moved forward, and she had to be taken out of the car by firemen. She suffered injuries to her neck and back and had medical bills of about $12,500. However, when the accident happened, her driver’s license had been revoked, and she didn’t have a license to operate a car.

The defendant argued that it was improper for the court to disallow her from presenting evidence that the plaintiff didn’t have a valid driver’s license on the date of the accident. She also argued that the plaintiff was negligent per se as a violation of a safety statute and that the evidence showed contributory negligence as a matter of law. The court dismissed this issue because the defendant hadn’t preserved it.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s failure to comply with a safety statute was negligence as a matter of law under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-7. She raised the issue for the first time on appeal, however. Therefore, the issue was dismissed.

The defendant also argued that it was an error for the trial court to fail to instruct the jury about the allegation that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, but since the issue wasn’t preserved at trial, it was dismissed. Similarly, she’d waived her objection related to the pattern jury instruction on failure to reduce speed.

The defendant argued that there was enough evidence that the plaintiff had contributed to her own injuries to support the lower court granting a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court disagreed. It explained a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on this basis would be proper only if the evidence showed the plaintiff’s contributory negligence as a matter of law. In deciding whether the plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law, the issue was whether the evidence showed the negligence so clearly that no other reasonable inference or conclusion could be drawn from it.

The defendant argued that there was no evidence that the impact from her hitting the back of the plaintiff’s car had caused the plaintiff to drive into the yard and crash into two trees, and therefore it was the plaintiff’s actions that had caused the additional injury. The appellate court explained this evidence was strong but not enough to preclude reasonable inferences that supported the opposite conclusion. The plaintiff had testified she kept her foot on the brake and didn’t accelerate, and the trooper’s testimony corroborated hers in that he believed she’d started to turn before getting hit. The judgment was affirmed.

If you suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina car accident attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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Wrongful Death and Contributory Negligence in North Carolina