Sep. 27 2023

North Carolina Court of Appeals Upholds Jury Finding of Contributory Negligence

In a recent decision, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict in a motor vehicle case that found the plaintiff was contributorily negligent. Plaintiff argued on appeal that it was reversible error for the trial court to have allowed defense counsel to use his prior marijuana use to impeach both his deposition and his trial testimony, arguing there was no evidence that he was impaired at the time of the accident. However, there was additional evidence of his contributory negligence, including that he rarely drove, particularly at night, and that he did not have his father’s permission to drive the night of the accident. The plaintiff also was not keeping a proper lookout, did not see the defendant’s vehicle and admitted he was driving above the speed limit, although not excessively so.

While the trial court instructed the jury on contributory negligence, none of the instructions pertained to the plaintiff’s marijuana use. The Court of Appeals ruled that, because there was more than a scintilla of evidence of the plaintiff’s contributory negligence, that issue was properly submitted to the jury. Thus, even if the trial court’s ruling that defense counsel could use the plaintiff’s prior marijuana use to impeach him was error—which the court did not find—that error was harmless because there were five other points on which the jury could have found the Plaintiff was contributorily negligent.

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