North Carolina Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules

Get an overview of the laws governing personal injury lawsuits in North Carolina.

By , J.D.

If you're involved in an injury case in North Carolina -- whether it's an insurance settlement or a lawsuit -- a few key state laws may come into play. In this article, we'll take a closer look at North Carolina personal injury laws.

Time Limits for Personal Injury Lawsuits

All states have limits on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in court after you have suffered some type of harm. There are different deadlines, and they vary depending on what type of case you want to file, but in general this kind of law is called a statute of limitations.

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives an injured person three years from the date of the injury to go to civil court and file a lawsuit. (N.C. Gen. Stat. section 1-52).

It is very important to understand and follow this law. Why? Because if you fail to get your lawsuit filed before the three-year window closes, the North Carolina courts will likely refuse to hear your case at any time in the future, and your right to compensation will be lost.

North Carolina Laws on Shared Fault

In some personal cases, the person or business that you are filing a claim against may allege that you're actually to blame (at least partially) for the incident that caused your injuries.

If you do share some degree of liability, it can end up affecting the total amount of compensation you can receive from other at-fault parties.

In shared fault injury cases like these, North Carolina follows a "modified comparative negligence rule." To put this rule in the simplest of terms, it means that the amount of compensation you're entitled to receive will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your percentage of fault. But if you're found to bear more than 50 percent of the legal blame, you can't collect anything at all from other at-fault parties.

So, let's say you're rear-ended at a stoplight, but one of your brake lights wasn't working at the time of the accident. During a civil trial, the jury decides that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident, while the other driver was 80 percent to blame. Your damages -- medical bills, vehicle repair costs, etc. -- add up to $10,000. How does your share of the fault affect your compensation? Under North Carolina's modified comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $8,000 (or the $10,000 total minus the $2,00 that represents your share of fault for the accident.)

North Carolina courts are obligated to follow this rule in an injury lawsuit that makes it to trial, and don't be surprised if the adjuster raises the issue of North Carolina's comparative negligence rule during settlement talks.

Caps on Injury Damages

Like a number of states, North Carolina has placed some limits on the kinds of damages that an injured person can receive in a court case (via a jury award after a finding that the defendant is liable for the plaintiff's injuries).

In North Carolina, in medical malpractice cases only, non-economic damages (like compensation that is awarded for pain and suffering) in most cases are capped at $500,000. This cap does not apply to other injury cases that don't stem from medical malpractice.

And in all types of injury cases in North Carolina, punitive damages cannot exceed the greater of three times the amount of actual (compensatory) damages or $250,000. It should be noted that punitive damages are very rarely awarded in injury cases, but it helps to be aware of this rule.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Bite/Attack Cases

In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a "one bite" rule. In North Carolina however, a specific statute (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 67-4.4) makes the owner "strictly liable", meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.

Injury Claims Against the Government in North Carolina

If your injury was caused by the negligence of an employee or agency of the North Carolina government (at the state level), you'll need to follow a different set of rules if you want to get compensation for your losses.

An injury claim against the North Carolina government or its employees must be filed with the state's Industrial Commission within three years of the injury, according to N.C. Gen. Stat. section 143-299.

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