When children are injured in a car accident in North Carolina, some unique legal issues can arise in the process of seeking recovery for those injuries.
Normally, when a negligence lawsuit arises in the wake of a car accident, the key issue in the case often revolves around determining who was at fault, or in other words who’s negligence actually caused the accident—and subsequent injuries to occur. This can be a tricky endeavor and sometimes the facts don’t point to a clear answer, instead indicating that more than one person had a role in causing the accident. So what does this mean for the outcome of the case? Well, North Carolina is one of the few states in the country that follows a rule known as “contributory negligence”. When you bring a negligence suit, in addition to asking whether the defendant was at fault, the law also requires us to ask whether you had any role in the accident. And if you did play a role in causing the accident, the contributory negligence rule says that you are completely barred from recovery.
So what happens with the contributory negligence rule when children are involved in the accident? Can a child be found to be a contributing factor to their own injuries, say for example, because they took off their seatbelt? The answer to that really depends on the age of the child. In North Carolina, children who are under the age of 7 are legally incapable of contributory negligence, which means that no matter how the child behaved in relation to the accident and injury, they will not be found at fault. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 are presumed to be incapable of contributory negligence, but it is possible that enough evidence could convince the court otherwise. And, children over the age of 14 are treated like adults, which means that they may be found at fault and barred from recovery.
I’ll have more in a later blog on what claims arise when a child is injured: who gets to bring the claim and what damages can be recovered?