An individual who believes that an accident—be it an automobile crash or a problem during surgery—resulting from someone else's negligence might have grounds for personal injury litigation that would result in financial compensation. North Carolina law governing such lawsuits has unique requirements, though legal procedures are similar nationwide.
What Is the Jurisdiction for My Lawsuit?
Individuals seeking less than $5,000 damages file personal injury litigation in the Small Claims part of District Court in the county in which they reside or in which the accident occurred. Lawsuits seeking between $5,000 and $10,000 are filed in District Court, while litigation asking more than $10,000 is filed in the Superior Court that covers the county of residence or the county where the accident occurred.
How Long Do I Have to File Litigation?
In North Carolina, plaintiffs in most cases are permitted three years after the incident in which to file personal injury litigation, though in medical malpractice the period can be from one to 10 years, depending on the type of case and beginning from the date the injury or problem was discovered.
What Is the Filing Procedure?
First, the plaintiff files the lawsuit—legally, this is called the complaint. The defendant—the personal, business or organization subject to the litigation—has 30 days after the complaint is served to file a response. Defendants can file countersuits if they believe the plaintiff harmed them or crossclaims contending that another party is responsible.
How Will Damages Be Determined?
The lawsuit can request compensatory damages—reimbursement for "reasonable and necessary" medical expenses, compensation for lost wages, payment for damaged property and such. Non-economic damages, such as compensation for emotional distress or pain and suffering, are permitted, though there is a $500,000 cap in medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages are permitted, though they are capped at three times the compensatory, or $250,000, whichever is greater.
Be aware, though, that North Carolina is a "contributory negligence" state, which means that if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff was in any way responsible for the accident, the plaintiff cannot collect damages.
Preparations for the Trial
The pretrial process includes an exchange of information and evidence between parties—a process called "discovery" that can have several components:
- Medical examinations—This can include mental or physical evaluations
- Interrogatories—Written questions for the other party to answer
- Depositions—Out-of-court testimony
- Visual inspections—Reviews of sites related to the litigation
Both sides also must produce electronically stored information that is "reasonable accessible."
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The vast majority of personal injury cases are resolved prior to trial through arbitration, mediation or neutral assessment. In fact, alternative dispute resolution is required in North Carolina Superior Court civil litigation, and some district courts require it as well. Using methods ranging from settlement conferences to early neutral evaluation, litigants often can resolve cases more quickly and less expensively than if they had gone to trial.
Proceeding to Trial
The trial commences with the selection of 12 jurors. Evidence is presented in hopes of swaying jurors, all of whom must agree to the verdict. The plaintiff or defendant can appeal any verdict with which they have legal reasons to disagree, including the amount of damages.
Consulting a Personal Injury Attorney
Many personal injury litigators accept cases on contingency bases, with compensation depending upon results. Attorneys are reimbursed for expenses, but their fees come from a percentage of any damages awarded—a third is the common level. The prevailing party can attempt to recover litigation costs from the other party and attorney's fees as well if less than $20,000 damages are awarded.
This article is a general overview of North Carolina personal injury law. Consult a lawyer if you have questions about complex matters.