Barry Saunders

Contributing to negligence without even knowing it – Saunders

Rigged system?

I got your “rigged system” right here, pal.

Or rather, your rigged system got me. Chances are, it’ll get you, too.

We’re not talking about the rigged system that an inexplicably popular political candidate talks about in case he loses. Check this out:

After leaving my loan shark Laura the Legbreaker’s office and borrowing a few squid earlier this month, I hopped into my truck, backed up slightly – someone had parked too close to my front bumper – and prepared to take off.

WHOOSH! It’s always a bad day when you have to go see Laura, and a bad day had just gotten worse. My right rear tire, in a matter of seconds, went as flat as a bottle of eight-day-old Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that’s been left out in the sun. While backing up to go forward, the truck’s tire brushed ever-so-gently against the metal water drain that protruded by a quarter inch or so from the sidewalk. It put a gash in my tire that left me stranded on the side of Ed Drive for four and a half hours after the roadside assistance company sent a dude who didn’t know how to remove lug nuts.

I didn’t think I was behaving recklessly or negligently by pulling off from the sidewalk, but for all of the satisfaction I received from the city, I may as well have ridden on top of the curb and then took out an ice pick and jammed it into the tire myself.

“The curb,” Raleigh’s property and liability adjuster Christopher MacKay informed me in a letter and phone conversation after I sent pictures along with my claim, “is not designed for vehicular travel, and your operation of the vehicle ... indicates contributory negligence on your part.”

He also stated that the storm drain “was found to be within the acceptable tolerances with no noted defects.”

Objecting, I knew after hearing that, would be futile – mainly because I didn’t know what it meant – so I didn’t bother to tell him that I didn’t ride my vehicle onto the curb.

Even as he rejected my claim, MacKay sounded sympathetic as he patiently explained, “There are not many states left like North Carolina. Basically, what (contributory negligence) means is that even if the city was 99 percent at fault, if the claimant contributes so much as 1 percent to the incident, then by law the claim is denied. Most states ruled that’s not really the fair way to do it, so most states use what is called comparative negligence. North Carolina is one that retains that contributory negligence defense.”

Even if the city was 99 percent at fault, if the claimant contributes so much as 1 percent to the incident, then by law the claim is denied. Most states ruled that’s not really the fair way to do it, so most states use what is called comparative negligence. North Carolina is one that retains that contributory negligence defense.

Christopher MacKay, Raleigh’s property and liability adjuster

Our research staff found that three other states – Virginia, Maryland and Alabama – along with the District of Columbia are the only others that still abide by the pure contributory negligence rule.

I admit to contributing at least 1 percent – after all, I got up that day – but with rules such as that one, it’s surprising that a city or town in any of those states would ever lose a claim.

It does happen, though, MacKay assured me. “There are times, certainly,” he said. “If you’re stopped in traffic and a police officer rear-ends you, nobody could rightfully argue that your actions ... contributed to the accident. There are certainly plenty of claims that are paid based on the negligent actions of an individual on behalf of a municipality. It just so happens that in those cases where maybe this person did something wrong but this person also did something wrong, it’s simply another defense that’s available” to allow municipalities to deny claims.

Let’s keep it 100, OK? I didn’t expect the city to pay for my tire, and a better driver may have been able to pull out of that tight spot without backing up and touching the curb.

Fortunately for me, I was able to work from my truck as I waited – and waited – for roadside assistance in the 89-degree summer swelter. I seek no sympathy nor deserve any. Think, though, about some poor bloke or blokette in a similar situation who’d have had to miss work and possibly lose his or her job in addition to buying a new tire because they were a teensy weensy bit at fault.

Being part of the 1 percent doesn’t sound so great in that instance, does it?

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