If you have been involved in an accident in North Carolina, the rule of contributory negligence, or “contrib” for short, may come roaring into your life suddenly and without warning. An adjuster may be telling you that he or she is investigating to see if you are “contrib,” or maybe a friend is telling you that a little mistake you made could ruin your whole claim. What is contributory negligence, and what do people mean when say you are “contrib?”

Contributory negligence is defined by the Wex Legal Dictionary as “a common law tort rule, abolished in most states.” Under contributory negligence, a plaintiff was “totally barred from recovery if they were in any way negligent in causing the accident, even if the negligence of the defendant was much more serious[i].” This means that if you are involved in a car accident and the other driver’s insurance can show that you did something wrong too, then they will deny your claim.

You may be thinking, “Okay, I get it, if I’m negligent and I hurt myself then I can’t sue somebody else. But counselor, the other driver hit me! How can the adjuster be telling me this is my fault?” The thing about contributory negligence that is so unjust is that you do not have to be completely at fault to be “barred from recovery.” In states that follow the rule of contributory negligence, such as North Carolina, even a tiny little mistake can ruin your case, because you do not need to be completely at fault to be considered “contrib.” There is a reason adjuster’s sometimes call this the “1% rule;” the insurance company is allowed to deny your claim completely if you are even 1% at fault. No rental car, no medical treatment, no settlement, no compensation of any kind.

Let’s go over one example of what contributory negligence looks like in everyday life. A person (let’s call them “Driver #1”) is driving on the interstate in the left lane. Driver #1’s exit is about a mile away, so Driver #1 decides to go ahead and merge into the right lane. Drive #1 looks over their shoulder and sees a large truck in the right lane a good distance behind them. Driver #1 sees that there is plenty of space, so Driver #1 starts merging into the right lane without using a turn signal. After completing the merge, Driver #1 looks in the rear view mirror and sees that the truck is not slowing down. The truck slams into the back of Driver #1’s vehicle, sending it off the road and into a ditch.

Driver #1 thinks to him or herself, “I know I didn’t use a turn signal, but I had plenty of space and it was a bright sunny day! Any reasonable person would have seen me. How am I contrib?” Being “contrib” does not mean you are totally at fault; all that is required to be found “contrib” is that the defendant show you did anything wrong. Yes the truck driver should have seen Driver #1, but the truck driver can say that Driver #1’s failure to signal their intention to merge contributed to the accident occurring. It’s called the 1% rule for a reason; if Driver #1 is even 1% at fault then the insurance company can get off scot free!

Since North Carolina is one of the only states to still follow the rule of contributory negligence, it is especially important that you do everything you can to maximize your chances of successfully recovering your damages from the other driver’s insurance. You can bet your bottom dollar that the insurance company is doing everything they can to minimize your chances of recovery!

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in North Carolina and want to maximize your chances of success, come to the Law Offices of Brian deBrun for a free consultation. With over 50 years of combined experience, Brian deBrun and his associates know that Personal Services Gets Results! Gives us a call at (704) 405-5505 or come on by in person to maximize your chances at a good settlement today!

Still have questions at contributory negligence? Feel free to email the author at Cameron@debrun.net if you’ve got a specific situation to discuss, or keep on reading for the Top Three Ways to Avoid Being Found Contrib.


[i] https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/contributory_negligence