I hope all our members and friends are enjoying spring as society opens back up. I love spring and summer, and this spring has been more welcome than most.
This year has seen efforts by the plaintiffs’ bar to end the doctrine of contributory negligence in North Carolina. Their efforts have come through the judiciary and the legislature. In the case of Saunders v. Hull Property Group, LLC, the plaintiff filed a petition for discretionary review with the goal of having the North Carolina Supreme Court do away with the doctrine of contributory negligence. The NCADA submitted an amicus brief to the NC Court of Appeals in 2019 and conditional motion for leave to file an amicus brief to the NC Supreme Court in 2021. The Court of Appeals declined to end contributory negligence, and the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff's petition for discretionary review.
Prior to the dismissal, the NCADA put together a committee to study contributory negligence and comparative fault. The North Carolina Advocates for Justice seem determined to bring an end to our current system one way or the other. As it stands, North Carolina is one of four states (in addition to Alabama, Maryland, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia that still has a pure contributory negligence system as opposed to comparative fault. Our committee is not advocating for a change of the current law. Instead, we want the NCADA to be ready if legislation is introduced to abolish contributory negligence. Specifically, the committee is researching the types of changes we can accept.
Shortly after our first meeting, a state senator introduced Senate Bill 477, the Victims’ Fair Treatment Act. From our perspective, the bill was a non-starter. It ends contributory negligence, but does not end joint and several liability. As a result, we joined the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and a long list of business-oriented groups, in a letter dated April 12, 2021, to the NC Senate opposing this bill.
Our committee is working on a position statement addressing key issues. If there is going to be a change, there needs to be fairness to both sides, something that is not accomplished with Senate Bill 477. We will submit the proposed position statement to the board by the annual meeting and include principles that must be included if there is a change. The committee welcomes questions, comments, and suggestions from our members.