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Contributory Negligence Fails in the Senate

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The Contributory Negligence bill that was highly endorsed as a positive move for North Carolina citizens has failed in our Senate. Because of another bill that was attached to it, the unfair practice of contributory negligence will unfortunately continue.

NC is one of only four (count ’em FOUR) states in the country where a person is not entitled to any compensation as a result of an accident if he/she is 1% or more at fault. (See my earlier blog posts.) This helps insurance companies to deny and undervalue claims that should be paid. Proponents of a more fair and even-handed system have advocated for a proportionate responsibility law. In other words, if a person is somewhat at fault in a personal injury case, the responsibility for the accident should be divided as necessary based on the involvement and negligence of each participant.

The House of Representatives passed the initial bill that would have abolished Contributory Negligence and replaced it with Comparative Fault, but the Senate rejected it last year. A Senate sub-committee added a section to the bill to change how the value of medical expenses would be considered by a judge or jury. Currently, the medical bill from the treating facility is deemed to be the reasonable value of the services rendered. The change would have allowed judges and juries to use the amount actually “paid” as the value of services. This farce fails to recognize that the reduction of medical bills often reflects costs to an injury victim for having collateral sources of coverage. North Carolina public policy has historically refused to reward a negligent party for the victim’s responsibility. Fortunately, the legislature avoided falling prey to this “sleight of hand” tactic and declined to change this medical bill law. But in the process, they threw out the baby with the bathwater, and we lost our bid to rid the state of contributory negligence. Ironically, very little attention was given to the concern that maybe our medical institutions are the real culprits for creating unrealistic bills. Clearly, a “truth in medical billing practices” law would go a lot further in resolving this issue and fairly treating North Carolina citizens.

This article was written by Todd P. Oxner