North Carolina Personal Injury Laws & Liability Rules

Details on North Carolina's statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, the state's plaintiff-unfriendly "contributory negligence" rule, and more.

By , J.D.

If you're injured in any kind of accident in North Carolina, from a car crash to a slip and fall, a number of state laws could come into play if you decide to file a personal injury lawsuit in court, or just pursue an injury settlement with an insurance company.

In this article, we'll cover North Carolina's deadline for getting a personal injury lawsuit filed in court, explain how the state's harsh "contributory negligence" rule can sink an injury claim if you share any amount of fault for the accident, and more.

What Is the North Carolina Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits?

All states have set limits on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit in court after you've suffered some type of harm. There are different deadlines that vary depending on the type of case you want to file. The law that sets the deadline is called a "statute of limitations."

In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases gives an injured person three years to go to civil court and file a lawsuit, usually starting from the date of the underlying accident. (N.C. General Statutes section 1-52). We'll talk more about how and where to get your North Carolina personal injury lawsuit filed a little later on.

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In North Carolina?

If you fail to get your lawsuit filed before the three-year window closes, you'll almost certainly lose your right to have your day in court and get a legal remedy for your injuries and related losses. This harsh result only highlights the importance of understanding and complying with the statute of limitations deadline.

Can the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations Be Extended In North Carolina?

In a few situations, the statute of limitations deadline might be extended in North Carolina, or more accurately, the starting of the "clock" might be delayed.

Injuries to a Minor or "Incompetent" Person. If the injured person is considered to be under a legal disability at the time of the underlying accident—meaning they were a minor under the age of 18, or were considered "insane" or "incompetent" according to North Carolina law—then the three-year "clock" for filing the personal injury lawsuit probably won't begin to run until the legal disability is "lifted," meaning the person turns 18, or is deemed sane or competent. (North Carolina General Statutes section 1-17.)

The Defendant's Absence From the State. If, at some point after the underlying accident, and before the lawsuit can be filed, the person who allegedly caused the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) "departs from and resides out of" the state of North Carolina, or if they "remains continuously absent" from the state for a period of one year or more, the period of absence likely won't be counted as part of the three years. (North Carolina General Statutes section 1-21.)

How Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In North Carolina?

In North Carolina, most personal injury lawsuits are filed in one of the two main branches of the state's civil court system:

  • Superior Court (which is divided into five divisions and 48 districts across the state), or
  • District Court (which is divided into 43 districts across the state, in each county seat).

Usually, if your injury-related losses ("damages" in the language of the law) add up to less than $25,000, you'll file your lawsuit in one of North Carolina's District Courts. If it looks like your damages will amount to more than $25,000, the Superior Court (for the county where the injury occurred, or where the person you're suing lives) is typically the right place to file your personal injury lawsuit. Learn more about Filing a Lawsuit In North Carolina (from

You might want to consider North Carolina's small claims courts if your injuries are relatively minor and your damages aren't more than $5,000 to $10,000 (the dollar limit varies depending on the county). Learn more about Small Claims in North Carolina (from

What If the Claimant Is Partially At Fault for Their Injury In North Carolina?

In some personal cases, the person or business you're filing a claim against may argue that you're actually to blame (at least partially) for the incident that caused your injuries. If you do share some degree of liability for your accident in North Carolina, the state's "contributory negligence" rule just might spell doom for your case.

Only a handful of states still follow this rule, which says that if the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is found to bear any amount of fault for the underlying accident, they can't collect anything at all from other at-fault parties in court.

Does North Carolina's Contributory Negligence Rule Apply to Insurance Claims?

Technically, no. The contributory negligence rule applies in personal injury lawsuits that make it all the way to trial. At that stage, if the injured person (the plaintiff) is found to bear any amount of fault for the accident, they're barred from recovering any compensation at all from the defendant.

But in practice, the insurance adjuster who handles your injury claim is going to consider your case and conduct settlement negotiations with an eye toward what might happen in court. So if it's pretty clear that you bear at least some level of liability for the underlying accident, it's probably going to be pretty tough to come away with a fair settlement that accounts for all of your losses.

Are There Caps on Damages In North Carolina Injury Cases?

Like a number of states, North Carolina has placed some limits on the amount and types of damages that an injured person can receive in certain kinds of court cases.

North Carolina's Medical Malpractice Damages Cap

In North Carolina medical malpractice lawsuits only, non-economic damages (like compensation awarded for the injured patient's "pain and suffering") in most cases are capped at just over $650,000. This cap is slated to increase every third year, with the next boost set for 2026. Learn more about North Carolina medical malpractice laws.

North Carolina's Punitive Damages Cap

In all types of injury cases in North Carolina, punitive damages cannot exceed the greater of:

  • three times the amount of the plaintiff's actual ("compensatory") damages, or
  • $250,000.

It's important to note that punitive damages are very rarely awarded in injury cases, but it helps to be aware of this rule. Learn more about punitive damages and gross negligence in personal injury cases.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Owners In North Carolina

In North Carolina, a specific statute (N.C. General Statutes section 67-4.4) makes a dog owner "strictly liable" for resulting damages in most situations where their animal bites someone, meaning regardless of the animal's past behavior, the dog owner is usually going to be held responsible. There are exceptions and nuances, so learn more about North Carolina's dog bite laws.

Get More Information on Personal Injury Cases

If you'd like more information on North Carolina personal injury laws, feel free to do a little legal research of your own. You can also get the basics about:

If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, you might want to discuss your potential case with a personal injury lawyer.

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