Comparative Negligence Still the Law of the Land in North Carolina

Seatbelts save lives and help to reduce injuries during car accidents. That said, what are the ramifications of not wearing your seatbelt when involved in a car accident where you are not at fault?

Comparative negligence states portion out damages based on “first collision injuries” and “second collision injuries.” First collision injuries are those injuries directly related to the opposing party colliding with your vehicle; whereas, second collision injuries are those that arise out from failure to wear the seatbelt, for example. Second collision injuries are oftentimes deemed to be the fault of the party not wearing the seatbelt, and oftentimes not recoverable through a personal injury claim.

Most states follow this majority position of comparative negligence: whereby fault between parties is divided by percentages allowing that percentage of recovery for damages. For instance if the plaintiff is 30% responsible for his own injuries, then under comparative negligence, he would be allowed to recovery only 70% of a jury award as he has been found to be 30% responsible for his own injuries.

However, contributory negligence states (such as North Carolina) do not proportion out percentage of fault to determine recovery through a personal injury claim. In North Carolina, even one iota of fault or negligence attributed to a plaintiff results in zero recovery. This is a minority position followed by only four states in the United States: Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia, and makes recovering any monetary damages very difficult. Therefore, a North Carolina plaintiff must truly be an ‘innocent party’.

While comparative negligence may be the viewed as a fairer way to determine negligence, the law in contributory negligence states makes it all or nothing. Thus, the question then becomes, how is the failure to wear a seatbelt in North Carolina affect ‘contributory’ negligence in car accidents?

The North Carolina General Statutes make seat belt use mandatory. N.C.Gen.Stat § 20-135.2A. However, while the General Statutes make seat belt use mandatory, “evidence of failure to wear a seat belt shall not be admissible in any criminal or civil trial, action, or proceeding except in an action based on a violation of this section or as justification for the stop of a vehicle or detention of a vehicle operator and passengers.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-135.2A(d). Thus, failure to wear your seat belt does not automatically mean the plaintiff has ‘contributed’ to his or her injuries nor does it exclude recovery through a personal injury claim.

By King Law Offices, North Carolina
Law Firm Website:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maggie Marquez Jaynes
Attorney Margaret Jaynes is an associate with King Law Offices, PLLC, currently practicing in many areas, including civil litigation and personal injury, from our office in Shelby, North Carolina.

Copyright King Law Offices

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

Find a Lawyer