Comparative Negligence in North Carolina

Under North Carolina’s contributory negligence law, you cannot collect damages for a car accident if you’re found even 1% at fault.
Written by Sarah Gray
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
North Carolina follows the doctrine of pure contributory negligence. This means if you’re found to be even 1% responsible for an accident, you cannot collect any damages.
Most states in the US follow a pure or modified doctrine of comparative negligence. These states award damages based on the percentage of fault each party is found responsible for in an accident. However, North Carolina takes an “all or nothing” approach. 
While it sounds straightforward, there’s a lot you need to know to make sure you don’t wind up paying unnecessarily. You should also be aware of what your rights are when you drive into a comparative negligence state.
The differences between contributory and comparative negligence can be confusing. That’s why
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What is comparative negligence

Comparative negligence is a legal term used to explain that when two people are in an accident, each will collect damages based on the percentage they’re found to be at fault.
For example, in a comparative negligence state, if you and another motorist are in an accident, your insurance companies will use evidence from the scene to determine what percentage of fault each of you is responsible for. So, if you’re found 10% at fault for the accident, you can file a claim with their insurance company to collect 90% of the damages.
Whether the other driver can file a claim with your insurance provider depends on whether you find yourselves in a pure or partial/modified comparative negligence state. Read on to see how it all breaks down.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

There are three types of comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence, partial or modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Each state’s law follows one of these principles. 
  • Pure comparative negligence: An injured party may collect damages even if they’re found 99% at fault.
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence: An injured party may only collect damages if they’re found to be less than 50 or 51% at fault (depending on the state).
  • Contributory negligence: An injured party may only collect damages if they’re found 100% not at fault.
North Carolina is one of only five pure contributory negligence states. 
Key Takeaway If you’re found even 1% at fault for an accident in North Carolina, you will not be able to collect any damages.

What is North Carolina’s comparative negligence law? 

North Carolina’s pure contributory negligence law means that you’re only entitled to collect damages if you’re found to be 100% not at fault.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

Regardless of how many people are involved, anyone bearing any responsibility for the accident is barred from seeking damages. Anyone found not responsible for the accident may file a claim for damages with any or all of the responsible parties’ insurance companies for damages.
When multiple parties are involved, insurance companies will usually mediate outside of the courtroom to negotiate a settlement that leads to each responsible party paying damages based on their level of fault.

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

Insurance companies determine fault in car accidents based on police reports and the evidence collected at the scene. In a contributory negligence state like North Carolina, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. That means it’s up to you to prove the other party was wholly at fault, so the more evidence you can collect to support your case, the better.
When you’re at the scene of an accident, be sure to check first that everyone is okay (including you) and call 911 if anyone is injured. Then, document as much evidence as you can:
  • Take pictures of the scene and all visible damage
  • Talk to any witnesses and record their names and contact information
  • Record the makes and models of all cars involved
  • Note the time of day and the weather conditions
  • If you call the police, be sure to record the police report number and the responding officer(s)’ badge number(s).
The more evidence you collect, the easier it will be for the insurance companies to determine who is at fault.
Key Takeaway Collect as much evidence as possible at the scene of your accident to ensure fault is assigned fairly and accurately.

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

In contributory negligence states like North Carolina, you can only file a claim for damages if you’re found 100% not at fault. If you’re found to bear any responsibility at all for the accident, you’re barred from collecting any damages. 
Let’s consider an example: Suppose you’re enjoying a peaceful drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a beautiful day, your windows are down, and you don’t notice that you’re exceeding the speed limit by about ten miles per hour when another driver makes an illegal turn into your car. You sustain multiple injuries costing you thousands in lost wages and medical bills while the other driver walks away unharmed. 
In a comparative negligence state, or even a partial/modified comparative negligence state, you could still sue for damages even though your speeding makes you partially responsible for the accident. In North Carolina, you cannot seek any damages because you were partially at fault.

How to find affordable car insurance

In a contributory negligence state like North Carolina, you’re never guaranteed the chance to seek damages. That’s why you need a licensed broker like
to help you find the best coverage at the best rate, even if you have a few accidents on your record.
Here’s how it works: download the Jerry app or go to In less than 45 seconds, Jerry collects your existing insurance information and compares it with quotes for similar coverage from over 50+ top providers to find and help you set up the best policy for you. Jerry even help you cancel your old policy! 
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Yes. To calculate your unique insurance premium, insurance companies use a number of demographics, your driving history (including amount of fault in accidents), and many other factors. If you’re found at fault for an accident, you could see your premiums go up by 20% or more!
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