North Carolina Car Accident Laws

Make sure you know your way around North Carolina’s car accident laws and negligence laws before an accident occurs (but hopefully it never will!).
Written by Amber Reed
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
If you’re in a car accident in North Carolina, state law requires you to exchange information with the other driver and immediately report the accident to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Depending on if you were at fault, you may be eligible to claim damages through your insurance or a personal injury lawsuit.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being in a car accident (or even a minor fender bender), you know what a jarring experience it can be. Emotions run high, and sometimes it can be a challenge to make the best decisions. 
That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with what to do after an accident before one happens—and
, the expert
car insurance
app, is here to help! We’ve put together a quick rundown of car accident laws in North Carolina.
We’ll touch on reporting requirements, car insurance minimums, and North Carolina’s contributory negligence law. We'll even help you lower your
North Carolina car insurance costs
regardless of your driving record!
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What to do after a crash: North Carolina car accident reporting laws

First things first: make sure that you and anyone else in the car are okay. If needed, call 911 to request medical help. If it’s safe (and your car is driveable), move it out of the way of traffic. 
Next, document the accident in as much detail as possible, including making notes and taking pictures. In North Carolina, you are required to exchange information with the other driver, so make sure you remember to do that, too. 
Then, depending on the degree of damage done, you may or may not be required to report the accident to a law enforcement agency. Let’s take a closer look at when you’ll need to officially report an accident and where you’ll need to report it. 

When to report an accident to the police

North Carolina law
requires you to immediately report any accident that causes death, injury, or property damage of more than $1,000. The agency that you will report the accident to depends on where it occurred:
  • If the accident occurred outside of a city or town, you need to file a report with the State Highway Patrol or local sheriff’s office
  • If the accident took place in a city or town, you should report it to the police department of that city or town
It appears that in North Carolina, the law enforcement agency will report the accident to the DMV, so at least you don’t need to worry about that step. However, you do want to make sure you contact your car insurance agent right away. 

Financial responsibility and coverage minimums: North Carolina’s insurance laws

Now, let’s talk insurance. What exactly are North Carolina's laws regarding financial responsibility and minimum insurance requirements?
Compared to some other states, the minimum requirements for car insurance in North Carolina are pretty robust. All drivers are required to purchase the following minimum amounts of
liability insurance
Additionally, North Carolina also requires
uninsured/underinsured motorist
Failure to have the minimum coverage or not being able to provide proof of insurance when required to do so can have severe legal consequences, including expensive fines and the possible revocation of your registration and license plate. 
But even though it’s required by law, not every driver in North Carolina is insured. In fact, a 2019 study by the
Insurance Information Institute
found that about 13% of North Carolina drivers don’t carry car insurance
If you’re in an accident with an uninsured driver, it can result in significant financial loss. But since North Carolina is one of the states that requires uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, you’re protected in that scenario to at least some degree. 
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Claiming damages after an accident: North Carolina’s personal injury laws

Depending on what happened and the extent of the damage done, you may want to go beyond an insurance claim and file a personal injury lawsuit to collect damages. Under
section 1D-25
of the North Carolina General Statutes, you have the right to seek punitive damages stemming from a car accident. 
Damages involving personal injury lawsuits typically fall into these two categories:
  • Economic damages: medical bills, lost wages, lost employment or business opportunities, loss of use of property, burial expenses
  • Non-economic damages: pain and suffering, mental suffering, inconvenience, humiliation
Section 1D-25 also sets a limit to the amount of punitive damages you can claim: $250,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater. North Carolina
General Statute 1-15.1
states that you have 10 years from the incident to file a claim for punitive damages. 

Exceptions to North Carolina’s personal injury laws

There is one situation where there is no limit to the amount of punitive damages you can claim in North Carolina, however. Under
General Statute 1D-26
, there is no cap on the amount of damages you can claim if the person who caused the accident was found to be guilty of a DUI

Who’s to blame: North Carolina’s contributory negligence law

One of the most heated issues that comes with any car accident is the question of who is at fault. If Larry is speeding and swerving through traffic in an unsafe manner and is T-boned by Todd, who’s running a red light, what happens? 
Here’s how it works—North Carolina has what’s called a contributory negligence law. This means that if someone is at fault to any degree for an accident, they cannot collect any damages. 
Most states have a structure that allows people to claim damages in proportion to their amount of fault. The specifics vary from state to state. But North Carolina does not—they are one of a scant few states that include Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. 
This kind of contributory negligence law is often criticized as being antiquated and unfairly harsh to the parties involved. It also has the potential to make proving fault a very contentious and challenging situation in a lawsuit scenario, since it results in an “all or nothing” type of judgment.  
Going back to Larry and Todd—since both of them were breaking the law, neither one of them could claim any damages. Even if one party was found to be 1% at fault and the other party 99%, the party who was only 1% to blame would still be forbidden from seeking any damages. Ouch. 

How to save money on car insurance in North Carolina

Aside from the expense, damage, and potential physical and emotional harm that can stem from an accident, it can also have long-lasting implications for the amount you pay for
car insurance
. It varies according to the circumstances, but your rates could increase anywhere from 35% to 80% after just one incident.
If you’re having trouble finding affordable car insurance due to an accident,
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