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TROUBLESHOOTERS: Contributory negligence

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- If you're driving out of town for the holidays, you will share the road with thousands of drivers. Be careful. In North Carolina, an old law on the books could make it difficult for you to get any compensation if you're in an accident. One Wilmington woman found out the hard way.

Peggy Williams has a 2010 Pontiac Vibe. It's a new car, now with some minor damage on the rear passenger side after an accident in October.

"Next thing I know we feel this boom, and everybody is going, 'What in the world is that?' and I'm looking, and this guy ran into me and backed into the side of my car," Williams said.

She was backing up in the parking lot of Casey's Buffet to pull into a parking space she had passed. Another driver backing out of a parking space hit her.

When williams contacted Nationwide, the other driver's insurance company, it wouldn't pay.

"They're saying we're both negligent, because we were both backing up," William said. "Now they don't want to pay my claim."

And they don't have to, because of North Carolina's contributory negligence law.

"North Carolina is one of four states in the union that has an old contributory negligence law," attorney and state senator-elect Thom Goolsby said. "Most states are comparative fault, which means you're responsible for your percentage of fault in an accident."

It's a gray area, but if you're at fault at all, you can be barred from collecting anything. But that may change during the long session of the General Assembly. Goolsby said there's a bill that would turn North Carolina, like most other states, into a comparative fault state.

"If it will make the system easier and more fair and keep these gray areas out and be able to resolve these cases easier, I would be all for it," Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, said.

Until then, drivers like Williams are left with a damaged car, unless they want to have their own insurance company pick up the tab.

Williams did not call the police, so she does not have an accident report. Goolsby recommends calling police if you do get into an accident. They can help document what happened, and it can be extremely helpful if they cite the other driver and not you.

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