Durham Law Office

If you have been injured due to the wrongful behavior of someone else you may wonder if you can make a claim against the wrongdoer for the damage they have caused. The answer depends on how the injuries occurred and what the law has to say about the circumstances. 

The law does hold people accountable when they take actions that hurt others. But personal injury liability will only be imposed when a wrongdoer knew or should have known that their choices could cause injury to others. 

The Durham personal injury lawyers at Ricci Law Firm are dedicated to helping clients get the compensation they are entitled to and will need to get their lives back on track after suffering a personal injury. Whether you are injured on your own time or while at work, Ricci Law Firm will evaluate the circumstances, advise you of your rights, and recommend your next move.

The Frequency of Personal Injuries in North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently published the state’s injury statistics from 2020. According to the department’s report, deaths from injuries and hospitalizations from injuries have increased significantly over the last several years. DHHS recorded the following personal injury statistics:

  • Injury deaths totaled 10,028 in 2020 – an increase of 23% since 2016. 
  • Injuries resulting in hospitalization have been increasing steadily since 2016 and were up 10% to 52,632 in 2020. 
  • Falls account for about 50% of all injury hospitalizations but only 15% of injury deaths. 
  • Unintentional poisoning was the leading cause of injury death in 2020 with 3,231 – marking a 70% increase since 2016 totals. 
  • Motor vehicle accidents were the second leading cause of both injury deaths and injury hospitalizations. 

Common Sources of Personal Injury Claims

Certain everyday situations leave people more susceptible to injury by others. The following circumstances are frequent sources of personal injury claims.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Accidents with motor vehicles can be between vehicles, including motorcycles, or they may be between motorized vehicles and bicycles or pedestrians. The average number of crashes involving motor vehicles each year in North Carolina is just over 271,000. About 29% of those crashes result in injuries though less than 1% result in fatalities.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV) published the following traffic crash facts from 2021: 

  • 1,783 persons died, including 262 pedestrians and 202 motorcyclists
  • 114,722 injuries – an increase of nearly 9% over 2020
  • 55% of fatal accidents involved a lane departure
  • Accidents are more likely to be fatal when speed or alcohol are factors
  • Distracted driving accidents result in more injuries than fatalities

Use of Faulty Products

People who buy products have the right to expect those products to be safe to use as advertised. Manufacturers and sellers of products may be liable to consumers who are injured by defective products. Consumers can show that a product is defective in one of three ways:

  • Defective design – the design of the product makes it inherently dangerous
  • Manufacturing defect – there is an error in the assembly of the product
  • Inadequate labeling – there is not sufficient warning of potential dangers or other instructions regarding use

In the medical field, manufacturers of devices that are implanted in patients may be sued when those devices do not work as intended or create unanticipated problems. Medicine and drug manufacturers may also be liable for failing to adequately warn consumers of known risks associated with taking a medication. 

In some cases, a single product is sold to many people who are injured in a similar way. There are lawsuits against the makers of Zantac by people who developed cancer after taking the medicine and were not warned that it contained a known carcinogen. The makers of Pinnacle hip implants are being sued by recipients who developed metal poisoning caused by the friction of the metal-on-metal design of the device. 

Abuse of Nursing Home Patients

On average, 1 in every 10 people over the age of 65 in the US will spend some period of their lives in a nursing home. Nursing home residents often have physical and mental limitations that leave them particularly vulnerable to neglect and abuse. There are over 425 nursing homes throughout North Carolina, and they house more than 35,000 residents.

Nursing home abuse is not always recognized or reported. It is estimated as many as 1 in 6 nursing home residents are victimized by abuse or neglect annually. But for every reported incident, there may be as many as five occurrences that don’t get reported. 

A nursing home resident may be abused in any of the following ways:

  • Physical harm – from intentional action (including sexual misconduct) or neglect
  • Psychological harm – using words to intimidate, humiliate, criticize, or shame
  • Financial exploitation – exerting undue influence or committing outright theft
  • Neglect – failure to attend to a resident’s needs of daily living

Though it can occur between residents, about 75% of nursing home abuse is inflicted by caregivers.

Injuries Occurring on the Property of Another

Property owners have a responsibility to keep their property reasonably safe for authorized visitors. When a personal or business guest is injured by a hazardous condition, the property owner may be liable for the damages.

Property owners are only required to protect visitors from hazards that are known to the property owner and not easily recognized by visitors. Property owners have a responsibility to monitor the property and learn of hazardous conditions in a timely manner. They must correct the hazard within a reasonable time or provide a sufficient warning so guests can avoid being harmed. 

When the hazard on a property is so obvious that any reasonable person would recognize it and be able to avoid being harmed by it, a property owner may not be liable if injuries occur because of it. 

Work-Related Injuries

The law in North Carolina requires most employers with three or more employees to purchase worker’s compensation insurance to pay for the damage caused when employees get injured while working. Workers’ compensation benefits are paid to qualifying employees even if they are at fault for causing the accident so long as the injury is work-related. 

Workers’ compensation benefits replace an employee’s right to sue an employer for personal injury. However, employers who don’t have workers’ compensation insurance or who harm employees intentionally may still be sued for personal injury. An employee may also make a personal injury claim against any third party whose actions contributed to a work accident.

Wrongful Death

When the wrongful actions of another cause a death, the survivors may be able to collect compensation for the damage done to the decedent as well as the losses the family will experience because of the untimely death of their loved one. If the death is work-related, workers’ comp insurance pays benefits to the surviving dependents of the deceased worker. 

Compensation paid for wrongful death is distributed according to intestacy laws which order the distribution of property when a person dies without a will. Compensation goes first to the surviving spouse and children or grandchildren. If there is no surviving spouse or lineal descendants, the proceeds are distributed to more distant living relatives.

What is Necessary to Prove a Personal Injury Claim

The law says every person must be reasonably considerate of the safety of others as they go about their daily lives. Imposing a duty to act reasonably is not too big a burden on anyone, given the benefit to everyone. A failure to act reasonably under the circumstances is the foundation of a personal injury claim.

Succeeding with a personal injury claim requires the injured party or their representative to establish certain facts necessary to prove personal injury liability. There are four necessary components to a personal injury claim.

  1. A duty owed. Drivers owe a duty to everyone else to obey traffic laws and follow the rules of the road. Manufacturers owe a duty to consumers to produce products that are safe for their intended use. Property owners owe a duty to authorized visitors to inspect the property for hazards.
  2. A duty breached. The driver was speeding. The manufacturer used non-specified parts when assembling the product. The property owner failed to detect the broken guard railing. 
  3. The breach caused injury. Actual cause – if not for the breached duty, the injury would not have occurred. Proximate cause – the injury was a foreseeable consequence of the breach.
  4. The injury caused damage. Medical bills, pain and suffering, physical impairment, lifestyle changes

How a Personal Injury Claim is Affected by Contributory Fault 

North Carolina is one of a tiny minority of states that will not let an injured party collect compensation if they have any fault for causing the situation leading to their injuries. Most states allow an injured party to have some fault and still recover partial compensation. 

Thus, it is usually critical to a personal injury claim that the claimant is completely without fault. The determination of fault will be based on the reasonableness of the actions taken under the circumstances. All actions taken by the injured person must be established as reasonable or their claim will be denied.

If the injury occurred at work and workers’ compensation applies, having fault will not prevent an injured person from receiving workers’ comp benefits but will affect the ability to recover personal injury compensation from other third parties. 

When Contributory Negligence Does Not Bar Recovery for Personal Injury

The bar against personal injury recovery for contributory negligence can be a harsh result for the injured person who is found to be 1% at fault. But challenges to the strict law have so far been unsuccessful. 

However, in certain circumstances, contributory negligence will not prevent an injured party from recovering compensation. 

Last Clear Chance

Last clear chance is a legal doctrine that was created as a way to ease the effects of the often punishing contributory negligence rule. Last clear chance allows an injured party with contributory negligence to collect compensation when someone else had the last opportunity to avoid causing the harm.  

Last clear chance might apply in a situation such as when a motorist has failed to pull far enough onto the shoulder and is hit while attempting to change his tire by another motorist who saw the disabled vehicle and failed to move over to an adjacent lane even though there was no other traffic in the area. 

Gross Negligence

Contributory negligence is a bar to recovery against others who were similarly negligent. Behavior that demonstrates a conscious disregard for the safety of others – such as driving while intoxicated – shows a greater indifference to harming others, and an injured person’s contributory negligence will not be a bar to compensation.

Personal Injury Damages that Can be Compensated

Personal injury compensation is an attempt to return to the injured person what has been lost as a result of the injury. Compensation will include financial losses as well as the dollar value of how the injury has affected the person’s life. 

The economic portion of a damage award can include payment of medical expenses and lost income. The non-economic portion of a damage award may include compensation for the pain and distress caused by the injury and any permanent life-changing consequences that resulted.

Proving damages requires thorough documentation and perhaps the opinions of experts. The more credible the evidence provided in support of claimed damages, the more quickly a fair settlement can be reached and compensation paid.

In addition to medical records and witness accounts, keeping a written log of how an injury affects daily life can be very helpful when negotiating for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are largely based on an injured person’s own account and can be hard to prove without supporting evidence. 

FAQ about Personal Injury in North Carolina

Is there a time limit for making a personal injury claim?

Yes, most claims for personal injury must be made within 3 years from the time the harm occurs or is discovered. But in no event may a personal injury claim be made longer than 10 years after the occurrence of the last act or omission giving rise to the claim. 

Do I need an attorney to file a personal injury lawsuit?

No, you are not required by law to be represented by an attorney in court proceedings. But if the stakes are high, representing yourself is probably not a winning strategy. You will not receive any special assistance or advice from court personnel. You will be expected to know the law and follow the appropriate procedures. And you more than likely will be up against other attorneys. 

Can I get compensation if the accident reinjured an old injury?

Yes, you are entitled to compensation to the extent you experienced new or worsening symptoms as a result of the new injury. However, it can be tricky to isolate the recent damage for purposes of determining compensation. It is important to have good documentation establishing the pre-existing condition before the accident and the changes since the accident. 

How long will it take to get compensation after making a personal injury claim?

Unfortunately, there is no set time limit for resolving a personal injury claim. Generally speaking, the more complex the situation – as to legal issues or severity of injuries – the longer it will take to get to a settlement. The faster legal issues can be agreed upon and damages determined, the faster compensation will be paid.  

How to Get Started with a Personal Injury Claim

Personal injuries can occur from a variety of situations that people experience every day. A car accident may lead to a personal injury claim between individuals. A slip and fall in a grocery store aisle may lead to a personal injury claim between an individual and a business. An employee who gets injured by faulty equipment at work may have a personal injury claim against his employer as well as the manufacturer of the equipment. 

Suffering a personal injury can be a life-changing event. Making a personal injury claim can be the way to try and recover as much as possible from what was lost and be able to move forward with life. Hiring an experienced legal advocate who understands the law, the legal process, and how to use the circumstances for your benefit gives you the security of knowing someone has got your back when you may be feeling unsure and vulnerable.

At the Ricci Law Firm, our clients know they matter and understand our passion to fight for the justice they deserve. Our personal injury lawyers bring a collective of 60 years of experience to each client’s case. With offices throughout North Carolina, we are committed to being accessible and obtaining the best possible outcome for every client.

If you or a loved one have been injured and believe you are entitled to benefits or compensation, schedule a free consultation with a Durham personal injury attorney and learn why so many satisfied clients recommend Ricci Law Firm.

Visit Ricci Law Firm Injury Lawyers at our Durham office

2828 Pickett Rd #150a
Durham, NC 27705