What Makes Someone an At-Fault Driver in North Carolina or Virginia?

This issue of fault in a Virginia or North Carolina car accident is critically important. These states, unlike many others, strictly adhere to the doctrine of contributory negligence, which states that any fault to the cause of an accident makes an injured party ineligible for compensation. So, in Virginia and North Carolina, you don’t have to be the at-fault driver to be denied compensation; you only have to be an at-fault driver.

An at-fault driver is someone whose actions or omissions, whether they are careless, reckless or deliberate, directly contributed to an injury event. The test is whether the accident wouldn’t have happened without the act or omission. Lawyers use a “but for” sentence construction to indicate that an action or omission was an essential element in the cause of an accident. Cars would not have collided:

  • But for the sudden lane change.
  • But for the illegal U-turn.
  • But for the driver running the stop sign.
  • But for the driver looking down at a cellphone.
  • But for the driver pulling a sweater over his head.

If eliminating the action (or omission) would not have prevented the accident, then that action was not a contributing factor, even if the action was negligent. For example, a driver who texts while driving is being negligent. But that negligence doesn’t contribute to an accident that only happens because a car rear-ended you. 

The final point is that fault requires proof “by a preponderance of the evidence,” not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means a judge or jury must only conclude that an act or omission “more likely than not” contributed to the accident. That is a comparatively easy standard to meet, so an attorney who tries to rebut an allegation of fault must be thoroughly prepared with as much hard evidence as possible.

If you have questions about a traffic accident, contact a law firm with more than 200 years of combined experience. Call (888) 351-1038 or contact Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban online to schedule a free consultation.

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