Liability of a Police Officer in a North Carolina Car Accident Lawsuit

car accidentRecently, in Allmond v. Goodnight, a North Carolina appellate court considered a tragic car accident case involving a public official. The case arose when a highway patrolman was speeding through an intersection and crashed into a car driven by Sandra Allmond, who died at the scene. A child traveling with her suffered severe injuries.

The administrator of the estate, who was also the guardian ad litem for the child, sued the officer both individually and in his official capacity as a patrolman to recover compensatory and punitive damages. He also filed claims against the North Carolina Industrial Commission under the Tort Claims Act, and the cases were consolidated.

The officer moved to dismiss on the ground of public official immunity. This motion was denied, and the officer appealed. On appeal, he argued that the doctrine of public official immunity applied because he was chasing a speeding vehicle when he crashed into the decedent. In an unpublished opinion, the court held that the officer would be immune from liability if he were chasing a speeding car when he crashed into the decedent’s car. It ruled that if the jury determined the officer wasn’t chasing a speeding motorist, the jury would have to decide whether the plaintiffs were entitled to recover their damages.

The jury found that the officer was pursuing a speeding driver, so the court entered judgment for the officer. However, in the other claim against the Commission, the plaintiffs learned new evidence about the officer and filed a motion for relief from the judgment. This motion was denied, and the plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the officer had failed to disclose evidence before trial that showed discrepancies about what the race was of the people in the car that the officer claimed to be chasing. At trial, he’d testified that he’d pursued a car. Two witnesses of the officer chasing the car had given statements that black men were in the car being chased. Other witnesses testified that the officer’s blue lights were on, but they didn’t know if he was chasing a speeding car. During the Commission proceeding, a CD was produced, which included many documents investigating the accident. The parties disputed whether this CD was produced in the other lawsuit against the officer, and the plaintiffs moved for a new trial on the ground that the attorney for the officer had committed fraud and misrepresentation in connection with this new evidence.

The plaintiffs argued that the emails showed the officer thought he was chasing a white male, rather than a black male, and that as a result of this race discrepancy, there was no way to locate the people in the speeding car to prove it existed. The officer had claimed he didn’t remember the race of the driver at trial, and the plaintiffs used this to argue that the officer had committed perjury.

The appellate court explained that in order to grant a motion for relief from judgment, the plaintiff had to prove:  (1) a witness would give newly discovered evidence (2) that was likely to be true (3) as well as relevant, material, and competent, (4) due diligence was used to obtain testimony at trial (5) that wasn’t merely cumulative and (6) didn’t tend to only contradict or impeach a former witness, and (7) if it were used in another trial, there would likely be a different result. The appellate court explained that the material question was whether there was a speeding vehicle, and the race was irrelevant. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you were hurt in a car accident involving an uninsured or underinsured driver, Maurer Law may be able to help you. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form for a consultation.

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