Burton Writes on Comparative Fault Legislation

Burton Craige has published an article entitled "The Road to Comparative Fault in North Carolina" in this month's issue of The Litigator, the regular publication of the North Carolina Bar Association's Litigation Section.

Summary: North Carolina is one of only five jurisdictions that retain the antiquated doctrine of contributory negligence. Here, as in Alabama, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, a plaintiff whose negligence makes the slightest contribution to his injury is barred from recovering any damages against the tortfeasor. The other 46 states, either by judicial decision or by statute, have adopted some form of comparative fault, allocating damages based on the degree of fault among the plaintiff and the defendants.

In May 2009, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill that would abolish contributory negligence, adopt a system of modified comparative fault, and modify joint and several liability. Modeled on the Uniform Apportionment of Tort Responsibility Act (UATRA), the bill attracted bipartisan sponsorship and support. After the sponsors agreed to several last-minute amendments that favored defendants, the bill (HB 813) passed by a margin of 67-50, overcoming strong opposition from business and insurance interests.

In the 2010 session, the North Carolina Senate will consider HB 813. If the bill passes the Senate, it will end the long, harsh regime of contributory negligence, and bring North Carolina tort law into the modern era. This article discusses the provisions of UATRA, the amendments adopted in the House, and the principal objections to the bill.