Personal injury law is designed to protect individuals who have been harmed or injured due to the negligence or intentional actions of another person. Its main purpose is to provide injured parties with a legal framework for seeking rightful compensation for their suffering and damages. Personal injury lawsuits come from a wide array of cases, such as vehicle accidents, workplace injuries, medical malpractice, and more.
In North Carolina, increasing numbers of personal injury cases remain a matter of concern. In 2022, for example, the North Carolina Industrial Commission reported more than 57,000 workers’ compensation claims arising from workplace injuries. Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Transportation reported more than 1,700 fatalities in 2021, making it the deadliest year in the last two decades in terms of road crashes.
This is why it is crucial to know the fundamentals of personal injury law. If you are a victim of someone else’s negligence in North Carolina and are considering filing a claim but do not know where to start, this comprehensive article is a good resource.
North Carolina Motor Vehicle Accident Laws
Every year, millions of Americans get involved in car accidents in different states, and North Carolina contributes considerably to the statistics. In fact, in 2022, the state ranked 8th as the most accident-prone place for vehicles in the US. A significant number of these accidents led to minor and severe injuries and, worse, fatalities. This makes vehicle accidents one of the top causes of personal injury claims in North Carolina.
In 2021, the NCDOT reported more than 114,000 car-related injuries, an 8.9% increase from the year prior. Some common causes of these accidents include alcohol-impaired driving, distracted driving, and speeding.
North Carolina follows a fault-based system, which means that when a car accident occurs, the at-fault party’s insurance will have to compensate the injured party for damages incurred, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage.
North Carolina motor vehicle laws require drivers to maintain liability insurance to protect themselves against financial losses in the event of accidents. The minimum amount of liability insurance required in North Carolina is as follows:
$30,000 in bodily injury coverage per person;
$60,000 in total bodily injury coverage per accident;
$25,000 in property damage liability coverage.
The state also requires drivers to purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which they can use in cases where an uninsured/underinsured driver causes an accident.
Other types of coverage in North Carolina include auto damage and medical payments. In addition to the basic policies, a vehicle owner can also opt to purchase plans to further protect them from costly expenses, such as coverage for towing and labor costs as well as for miscellaneous types of vehicles.
North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Laws
Work-related injuries and fatalities continue to be a subject of concern for workplaces in the US. In 2021 alone, the country recorded more than 2.6 million cases of injuries and illnesses and over 5,000 work-related fatalities.
Meanwhile, private employers in North Carolina reported an estimated total of more than 67,000 non-fatal work injuries, while those involving fatalities mounted to 179. Some of the major contributors to these mishaps are transportation incidents, exposure to harmful substances or environments, contact with objects, and slips, trips, and falls.
To help employees receive benefits when they sustain work-related injuries and illnesses, North Carolina maintains workers' compensation policies. The North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, for example, requires that businesses with three or more employees get workers’ compensation insurance or qualify as self-insured employers.
This policy provides the following coverage:
Temporary total disability: The employee may be eligible for this coverage if the illness prevents them from working during their recovery time. This allows salary replacement equal to two-thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage.
Temporary partial disability: This benefit is given if an injured employee can return to work during the healing period, but only at a limited capacity and therefore at reduced wages. The computation for this benefit is two-thirds of the difference between the salary earned after the injury and the employee’s average weekly wage and can continue for up to 500 weeks.
Permanent partial disability: This coverage is for workers who continue to suffer an impairment after the initially determined healing period for the listed injured body part.
Permanent total disability: This coverage is for employees suffering severe injuries that prevent them from returning to work. Cases can include amputation, paralysis, and brain or head injuries.
Disability benefits in North Carolina are calculated depending on multiple factors, such as the severity of the injury, the wage of the worker, and the type of benefit being claimed.
If you are injured at work and seek to file a claim, notify your employer immediately and submit the necessary requirements, such as Form 18, Form 18B, or Form 18M. You must file the claim within two years of the date of injury, and you should be able to show that your job or workplace caused the illness. To navigate the process more efficiently and effectively, retain a legal representative who will help you fill out the documents correctly and meet crucial deadlines.
North Carolina Premises Liability Laws
Premises liability involves cases in which an owner may be held responsible for unsafe or hazardous conditions on their property that cause injury to an individual. Some of the most common premise liability cases involve exposure to dangerous substances, falling objects, negligent security, dog bites, slips, trips, and falls.
In North Carolina, people who fall under the “duty of care” of the property owner — such as guests, customers, employees, and other lawful visitors — have the right to initiate a claim if they sustain injuries while on the premises. This law, however, does not usually apply to individuals who are unlawfully present on the property, such as trespassers.
Strict Liability for Dog Owners
North Carolina has a strict liability law that holds dog owners responsible in cases of dog bites. This law allows victims to recover rightful compensation if the situation establishes the owner's negligence, resulting in damages to the other party. Specifically, this liability extends to losses arising from dog bites, such as injuries to people, damage to property, or harm to other animals.
Liability coverage for dog bites and other premises liability cases can be costly to the involved parties; however, this is where insurance comes in. If a person decides to file a claim, premises liability insurance can cover medical bills and lost wages, as well as damages due to pain and suffering and emotional distress.
North Carolina Medical Malpractice Laws
In 2020, the North Carolina Medical Board noted that there were 561 medical malpractice claims reported in the state. These claims range from surgical mistakes and medication errors to birth injuries and failure to diagnose. Medical malpractice often leads to various negative impacts on victims, such as minor to serious injuries, worsened medical conditions, emotional distress, financial challenges, and even fatalities.
Victims of medical malpractice can file a claim against any healthcare provider accused of negligence that led to their injury, including physicians, nurses, or an entire organization.
North Carolina follows two major rules in providing evidence for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The plaintiff must have at least one expert medical witness with a sworn affidavit stating that they have reviewed the injured person’s medical record and are prepared to testify that the healthcare provider’s actions (or lack thereof) caused harm to the patient;
The plaintiff bears the burden of proof, which means that the injured patient must demonstrate, by a preponderance of evidence, that the healthcare provider was negligent and that this carelessness caused their injury.
North Carolina Product Liability Laws
Product liability is the legal obligation of businesses, manufacturers, distributors, and other involved parties to ensure that the products they release into the market are safe for use and consumption. Unlike many other states that rely on the doctrine of strict liability for product defect claims, North Carolina follows a negligence-based approach to product liability.
This means that if you are a victim of a defective product, you must be able to prove that the defendant was negligent in creating it. In addition to that, you must be able to demonstrate that:
You suffered an injury;
The product is defective, dangerous, or improperly labeled;
The issue with the product resulted in your injury.
To determine whether a product is considered defective, it may involve any of the following:
Design defects - when a product is developed in such a way that makes it unsafe for its intended use, even if manufactured properly. Because of this, all products that follow the same design may be considered defective.
Manufacturing defects - when a particular item or batch of products is manufactured incorrectly or differently from their intended design.
Improper marketing - when a product is mislabeled or lacks a specific warning, which in turn results in consumers being unaware of the possible risks the product might have.
North Carolina Follows the Contributory Negligence Doctrine for Personal Injury Lawsuits
North Carolina is one of only four states (along with Alabama, Maryland, and Virginia) that follow the doctrine of contributory negligence in personal injury cases. This legal doctrine states that plaintiffs may be barred from recovering any compensation from the defendant if they are proven to be partly at fault for the damages they sustain.
In other words, if a plaintiff is found to be at least 1% liable for their own injury — regardless of how much the defendant contributed to it — they may be completely prevented from collecting damages from the other party. It is, however, up to the defendant to establish the correlation between the plaintiff’s actions and the injury suffered.
There are three exceptions to this contributory negligence rule where a plaintiff may still be able to recover their rightful compensation:
Last clear chance: If the plaintiff proves that the defendant had the opportunity to avoid causing harm, but failed to do so;
Gross negligence: If the plaintiff establishes that the defendant acted without regard for the safety of others, resulting in damage or injury;
Age and mental incapacity: If the injured person is not of age or is mentally lacking, rendering them incapable of avoiding the injury.
North Carolina Business Liability Insurance Requirements
As already mentioned, North Carolina does mandate businesses with three or more employees to obtain workers’ compensation insurance. The state also requires all business-owned vehicles to be covered by a commercial auto insurance policy to protect their assets in cases of accidents, theft, and damages involving company vehicles.
While North Carolina does not require businesses to get general liability insurance, it is highly recommended to get one to protect themselves from various risks and liabilities. This type of insurance can provide financial protection against third-party bodily injury and property damage claims, product liability, and other legal obligations that might arise in relation to business operations.
The amount of business liability insurance depends on factors such as the size of the business, the industry they are in, and their annual revenue. Small businesses, however, typically opt for the standard policy, with coverage ranging from $1 million per occurrence to $2 million in liability limits. Companies also have the option to extend this amount if the business is operating in a high-risk setting or has high revenue.
How Much Can Someone Sue For an Injury in North Carolina?
Similar to many other states, North Carolina does not have a specific limit on the amount of compensation for economic damages that can be awarded as a result of personal injury lawsuits. This can cover the full financial damages sustained by the victim, such as their current and future medical bills and loss of income due to their injury. Compensation varies depending on the circumstances of the case, the severity of the injuries, and the extent of the damages incurred.
The state also does not typically have a cap on compensation for non-economic damages or those that are less tangible and are not easily seen. This includes emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment in life, among other subjective impacts of the injury. Meanwhile, this rule excludes medical malpractice cases in North Carolina, which are capped at $500,000. This limit, however, can still be lifted if the judge deems it necessary, especially if a claimant is permanently disabled because of the gross negligence of a medical practitioner.
Economic and non-economic damages are both compensatory damages.
Unlike the previous two cases, North Carolina limits the punitive damage compensation that a plaintiff can claim. Punitive damages are payments that a defendant is ordered to pay if their actions are deemed extremely negligent, malicious, or intentional. This is awarded on top of compensatory damages and aims to punish the defendant while discouraging similar behavior in the future. In North Carolina, the amount of this type of compensation should not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.
The Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits in North Carolina
The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in North Carolina is generally three years from the date when the injury occurred. If a claim is not filed within this period and there are no exceptional circumstances that justify an extension of the statute of limitations, the court is likely to dismiss the case.
Exceptions to the Law
Here are the circumstances that warrant an extension of the statute of limitations in North Carolina’s personal injury cases:
If the injured person is a minor, the three-year countdown begins only after the victim turns 18. However, the guardian’s claim for medical bills is still covered by the original statute of limitations.
If the injured person is in any way incompetent or incapable of making their own decisions because of several reasons, the time limit will be tolled. Such reasons may be due to mental illness, intellectual disability, injuries, or similar conditions. The “clock” will only start ticking once the legal disability is lifted, meaning the victim is considered sane or competent by the state.
If the defendant resides outside of North Carolina or is continuously absent from the state for a year or more, the period of absence will be excluded from the three-year statute of limitations.
If the victim could not reasonably have discovered the injury or damage until a later date, the statute of limitations could be adjusted to the time of the discovery rather than the date when the injury occurred. This potential exemption is called the rule of discovery.
This time limit, plus the complexity of personal injury claims, typically compels victims to seek professional help from lawyers and other legal organizations.
Legal Resources for Injured Folks in North Carolina
The North Carolina State Bar is a government agency established to regulate thousands of licensed lawyers in the state. The organization aims to protect the public by promoting professionalism and maintaining standards in the legal profession. Although it does not directly provide legal assistance through its regulatory role, personal injury claimants can seek assistance from their team when looking for qualified personal injury attorneys who specialize in handling their specific cases.
Through the collaborative efforts of Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance, the North Carolina Bar Association, and Probono.net, LawHelpNC aims to make legal information more accessible and understandable to individuals in North Carolina who are dealing with various legal issues, including personal injury claims.
Free Legal Answers is a service provided by the American Bar Association and is available in multiple states, including North Carolina. This platform connects individuals with qualified lawyers who can give free legal advice online. While this service is designed for addressing civil matters, personal injury claimants can also seek guidance pertaining to their cases. However, the extent of this guidance will ultimately depend on the expertise of the participating attorneys on the platform.
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