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NC Chamber, Aligned Organizations Urge Lawmakers to Oppose Senate Bill 477, Protect NC’s Balanced Civil Liability System

Today, Monday, April 12, the NC Chamber, the NC Chamber Legal Institute, and a coalition of organizations with shared interests in protecting our state’s well-balanced civil liability system sent a joint letter to members of the N.C. Senate urging them to oppose Senate Bill 477. This damaging bill, which was introduced on April 1, would not only raise litigation costs for businesses at a time when many are still struggling to overcome the trials of COVID-19 – it would also upend a major competitive advantage for our state and undermine efforts to reestablish a top-10 business legal climate in North Carolina.

“This harmful bill seeks to abandon North Carolina’s longstanding adherence to the ‘contributory negligence’ doctrine, a key doctrine setting our state apart from the competition on the fairness and judiciousness of our civil liability system,” the letter states. “We respectfully ask that you stand strong in protecting this important doctrine at the core of North Carolina’s balanced and fair civil liability system, either by shelving or voting against Senate Bill 477 and the threat it poses to our continued competitiveness.”

View the full letter here.

The letter provides a detailed overview of “contributory negligence” and the balance it brings to North Carolina’s civil liability system. It suffices to say here, however, that this doctrine is a vital component in a carefully established system of legal checks and balances designed to fairly determine negligence in personal injury lawsuits. And this system has long provided both plaintiffs and defendants in North Carolina with equitable pathways to pursue their desired outcomes while encouraging reasonable settlements that distribute costs justly and sensibly.

We thank the co-signers of this letter for standing together to ensure our state’s lawmakers fully understand the critical nature of this issue to the business community. It is our hope – and sincere belief – that members of the General Assembly will demonstrate the same sound judgment to protect our balanced civil liability system that they have shown when making countless other policy decisions whose outcomes have helped shape North Carolina into the best state in the nation to grow a business.

Senate Bill 477 is, in many ways, emblematic of the threats to North Carolina’s legal climate that can crop up at any time and exact a damaging toll on job creators and the engines of economic growth in our state. The NC Chamber’s advocacy team keeps a vigilant watch for these threats at the General Assembly, while also working to advance legislation that protects and enhances our legal climate. You can learn more about the NC Chamber’s focus on legal climate advocacy here, as part of the full list of items on our 2021 legislative agenda.

Of course, legal threats – and opportunities – can also arise from activity in the court system. In fact, in one 2019 lawsuit, Saunders v. Hull Property Group, a plaintiff who a jury determined had contributed to their own injury petitioned the N.C. Supreme Court to take up their case, in an attempt to litigate essentially the same harmful policy outcome at stake in Senate Bill 477. Fortunately, the NC Chamber Legal Institute (CLI) watches for these threats in the courts, just as the NC Chamber watches for them at the legislature. The CLI closely monitored this lawsuit and stood ready to intervene if needed, which ultimately proved unnecessary.

The next case cropping up may well require a business intervention, however. To find out more about the CLI’s efforts to guard against threats and support pro-business outcomes in the courts – as well as the benefits you stand to gain from engaging in these efforts – click here or contact NC Chamber Legal Institute President Ray Starling at