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Survivor Stories Shared with NC General Assembly

June 8, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - Some North Carolinians who have personally experienced the state's "contributory negligence" law are speaking up as the General Assembly considers changing to a "comparative fault" system, which is used in almost every other state.

Lisa Vogel's son died in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. Although the case was clear on the criminal side of the justice system, the civil side turned it upside down by invoking "contributory negligence." The result was a ruling of: "He should have known better than to get in the car." Vogel says that was not only unfair, but was especially hurtful to her family.

"On top of all the grief that we were suffering, to hear that our son was, essentially, being held responsible for his own death... And, I mean, he had done nothing illegal that night."

Vogel explains that a comparative fault system would have measured the responsibility of each party's actions and held them accountable based on that measurement.

John "Happy" Lashlee's experience with the state's "contributory" system came after a chainsaw accident left him paralyzed.

He says because he didn't have the correct chain on the saw, the "contributory negligence" law holds him responsible, even though the mistake was made by a company representative. He's concerned that there are chainsaw users all over the country at risk of injury and death, and that they don't it know because the case didn't go to court.

"That dealer is the one that put the chain on there, and also sharpened that chain on a few occasions. No one ever said, 'You know, this is the wrong type chain.' So I never knew it."

Insurance companies are fighting the proposed change, warning that it will result in more court cases and higher insurance rates for consumers.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - NC