North Carolina Court Upholds Application of Contributory Negligence Doctrine in Parking Lot Trip and Fall Case

If you are injured in a trip and fall accident on someone else’s property, you may have a premises liability claim for damages against the persons responsible for the property where the accident happened. At Maurer Law, our seasoned team of Charlotte trip and fall lawyers have handled numerous claims on behalf of individuals who wound up with serious injuries and expenses because the property owner failed to keep the property in a safe condition. We are available to assist you in exploring your right to compensation.

Recently, the North Carolina Court of Appeal was asked to decide whether a jury properly found that a plaintiff in a trip and fall case was contributorily negligent in causing her injuries. The plaintiff tripped and fell at the Blue Ridge Shopping Mall in Hendersonville in an area of its parking lot where an energy company had performed maintenance on utility lines beneath the surface. The patched area was roughly a half-inch lower than the surrounding parking lot surface.

The plaintiff parked her vehicle in a parking spot next to the patched area and tripped on the edge. She alleged in her complaint that because it was a sunny day, shadows obscured the edge and made it impossible to see. She suffered a concussion and fractured left knee as a result of the fall requiring a total knee replacement among other treatments.

The plaintiff filed a claim for negligence to recover her costs. The defendant answered the complaint claiming that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent on the basis that the lowered edge of the patched area was an open and obvious danger. Under North Carolina law, this doctrine states that if a danger is open and obvious to a reasonable person, then a landowner cannot be held liable for failing to address the condition or provide warnings to the person who was injured.

The defendant asked the court to instruct the jury at the close of evidence during trial on contributory negligence. Under North Carolina law, if the plaintiff is found to be even 1% at fault, he or she is barred from recovering compensation. The plaintiff objected to the jury instruction. Ultimately, the jury found the plaintiff contributorily negligent and awarded no damages. The plaintiff appealed.

On review, the plaintiff argued that the jury should have been instructed on comparative negligence, which asks the jury to assign percentages of fault to the parties and award the plaintiff a pro-rata share of damages. The appellate court noted that while the plaintiff advanced a number of arguments as to why the court should adopt a comparative fault approach, the law in North Carolina followed the contributory negligence doctrine and the court did not have the power to change the law.

If you were hurt on someone else’s property, contact the seasoned premises liability attorneys at Maurer Law as soon as possible to begin investigating your potential claim for compensation. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about our services and how we can help you assert your rights. Call us today at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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