If you suffer injuries in an Outer Banks car accident, North Carolina law will determine whether you are entitled to compensation. Depending on where you live, our state laws may be different from those that apply to car accident injuries in your home state.
In North Carolina, legal liability — the responsibility for compensating injured victims — is based on traditional rules of tort liability, a legal concept under which responsibility for compensating victims is based on breach of a legal duty. In the case of car accidents, the breach of duty is referred to as negligence.
Generally, negligence occurs when someone fails to use reasonable care in the circumstances to avoid injuring another person. In North Carolina, if a person is negligent and causes a car accident, that person is at fault and legally responsible for compensating victims for their car accident injuries. Our state is sometimes referred to as a “fault state” for that reason. While some states apply “no fault” rules in accident cases, North Carolina is not one of those states.
The law is further complicated by the fact that North Carolina is one of just a few states that follows a rule of pure contributory negligence. Under this legal rule, a victim cannot receive any compensation for injuries if he or she contributed in any way to causing the accident. Even if the victim is 1% at fault and the other person is 99% at fault, the victim is not legally entitled to recover from the other person.
There are no specific rules for determining fault (negligence) in a car accident. Reaching a conclusion about who was at fault requires investigating and analyzing all the facts of an accident from every perspective.
While there are some facts that can point to negligence — like someone driving while impaired, running a red light, or violating another traffic law — determining the cause of an accident requires looking at all the circumstances and facts, rather than considering one isolated fact by itself. Even the police report is not conclusive evidence as to the cause of an accident.
Oftentimes, there can be disagreement about which person caused an accident. Insurance companies and lawyers representing injured victims can have different opinions about who is at fault, which means they can also disagree about responsibility for compensation. For that reason, issues of causation and fault are a critical part of settlement discussions between insurance companies and lawyers. If a lawsuit is filed, and the case goes to trial and verdict, the judge or jury ultimately makes the decision about who caused the accident.
If you’re injured in a North Carolina car accident that was someone else’s fault, you are entitled to recover compensation for your injuries. The compensation is referred to as damages. There are basically three different types of damages that may be available, depending on the circumstances:
Economic damages are essentially your out-of-pocket costs and losses. They include things like medical expenses, vehicle damage, and lost wages.
Non-economic damages are losses that are harder to measure in financial terms. They generally come into play when injuries are severe. This component of damages includes recovery for pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, anticipated future medical costs, and compensation for permanent disability or disfigurement.
Punitive damages are only available in specific, unusual circumstances. Rather than being compensatory, they are imposed to punish a person for extremely reckless conduct.
The first priority after an accident is to get necessary medical care. Even if you do not think you were injured, it’s advisable to have a professional medical evaluation. Some types of car accident injuries may not be apparent immediately after an accident, including some severe types of injuries like traumatic brain injury (TBI).
While you are at the scene of the accident, you should provide your information to others who were involved and cooperate in giving information to law enforcement officers. In talking with anyone, do not speculate about the cause of the accident or about who might be at fault. Simply make factual statements concerning what you know first-hand about the accident.
After the accident, notify your own insurance company. In talking with them, again state only the facts as you know them. Do not make any statements about the cause of the accident or who was at fault.
If you’ve been seriously injured and are contacted by an insurance adjuster for another person’s insurance company, you should not talk with the adjuster. Above all, do not make or sign any statements. You can simply tell the adjuster that your attorney will be in touch with the company.
If your injuries are minor, you recover fully in a short period of time, and all your expenses, costs, and losses are covered by your own insurance, you may not need to talk with a lawyer. In the absence of long-term injury or disability, there probably is no additional compensation that you would be able to recover.
However, if your injuries are severe, and you have lasting pain and suffering, face future medical expenses, lose work, or have permanent disability or disfigurement, you should talk with an experienced North Carolina car accident attorney. An accident involving long-term injuries involves both economic and non-economic damages. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case and help you determine the best course to pursue.
While you could negotiate your own settlement with the at-fault person’s insurance company, it is completely against your interest to do so. You likely would not recover the full compensation you deserve if you attempt to negotiate a claim for serious injuries on your own.
The insurance company’s goal always is to settle your claim for the lowest possible amount. Adjusters are very experienced in convincing claimants to accept less than a claim is worth. They are also very adept at getting a claimant to make and sign statements that negatively impact the claimant’s right to recovery. Talking with an adjuster for any reason is a serious mistake. The best decision is to consult with an experienced attorney and have your attorney handle all the communication.
When you have significant injuries, it is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after the accident. Investigating the accident is easier to accomplish shortly afterwards. Your lawyer will also be able to handle all the details of getting your compensation while you concentrate on getting better. In addition, North Carolina has a three-year statute of limitations on filing a lawsuit for compensation from a car accident. If too much time passes, it will be too late to file a case in court, should that become necessary to ensure recovering full compensation.
If you do decide to talk with an attorney about an Outer Banks accident, it’s best to consult a local attorney who knows the area and is experienced in North Carolina car accident law. Knowledge of the locality and of local court practices and processes is extremely beneficial in pursuing compensation in a car accident case.
If you suffered significant injuries in an Outer Banks car accident — or elsewhere in northeastern North Carolina — and the accident might be someone else’s fault, our trusted personal injury attorneys at The Twiford Law Firm are here to help.
With offices in Elizabeth City and Moyock, we serve clients throughout northeastern North Carolina. Call us at 252-338-4151 (Elizabeth City) or 252-435-2811 (Moyock) or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation.