North Carolina Motor Vehicle Negligence

Home /  North Carolina Motor Vehicle Negligence

Elements of a Motor Vehicle Negligence Claim

A party who suffers a personal injury or property damage associated with another person’s negligence while operating a motor vehicle may sue for compensation. A successful claim for damages that results from an incident involving a motor vehicle is generally similar to any other type of negligence claim.

Negligence is “the failure to exercise that degree of care which a reasonable and prudent person would exercise under similar conditions. A defendant is liable for his negligence if the negligence is the proximate cause of injury to a person to whom the defendant is under a duty to use reasonable care.” Hart v. Ivey, 420 S.E.2d 174, 332 N.C. 299 (1992).

Based on this definition, to recover for injuries caused by another motorist’s negligence, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of evidence each of the following:

  1. A duty of care owed by one person to another.
  2. A breach of the duty owed by one person to another.
  3. The breach causes direct injuries or property damage.

Duty of Care

Motorists, like any other people, are expected to use ordinary care to protect others from injury or damage to their property when driving. Williamson v. Clay, 90 S.E.2d 727, 243 N.C. 337 (1956).

Ordinary care means that degree of care that a reasonable and prudent person would use under the same or similar circumstances to protect himself and others from injury or damage. Pinyan v. Settle, 139 S.E.2d 863, 263 N.C. 578 (1965).

Breach of Duty of Care

A defendant is liable for negligence when s/he breaches the duty of care owed to the plaintiff. A defendant breaches such a duty by failing to exercise reasonable care in fulfilling the duty. Hart v. Ivey, 420 S.E.2d 174, 332 N.C. 299 (1992).

Negligence per se

A person who violates a traffic law is also presumed not to have exercised ordinary care. “When a statute sets a standard of care for the protection of others, violation of that statute is negligence per se.” Hinnant v. Holland, 374 S.E.2d 152, 92 N.C. App. 142 (Ct. App. 1988).


The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of the injury or property damage suffered. Proximate cause is one which, in a natural and continuous sequence, leads to a person’s injury or property damage, and is a cause that a reasonable and prudent person could have foreseen would be likely to produce such injury or damage, or some similar injurious result. Lynn v. Overlook Development, 328 N.C. 689, 696, 403 S.E.2d 469, 473 (1991).


To be considered an actionable case for negligence, a motorist’s breach of the duty of ordinary care must be the proximate cause of harm to the plaintiff. Damages or harm that is not caused proximately by a motorist’s breach of the duty of ordinary care is not compensable.

Compensable damages fall into the following categories:

  1. medical expenses
  2. loss of earnings
  3. pain and suffering
  4. scars or disfigurement
  5. loss of a body part
  6. loss of use of a body part
  7. permanent injury
  8. loss of property
  9. damage to property
  10. loss of consortium
  11. wrongful death

North Carolina

Practice Areas

Legal Malpractice

Legal Malpractice

Personal Injury

Personal Injury

Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice

Commercial Litigation

Commercial Litigation

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain

Contact Us

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.