Vicarious Liability in a North Carolina Trucking Accident

truckIn North Carolina truck accident cases, a plaintiff may be able to hold the driver directly liable, and they may also have a claim for vicarious liability, which is an indirect form of liability, against the driver’s employer. However, vicarious liability is derivative, which means that the plaintiff can only recover damages from the employer if the employee driver is found negligent.

Harris Boling v. Greer is a North Carolina case that arose when the defendant was driving a tractor-trailer owned by his employer and crashed into the plaintiff’s truck on Interstate 40. The defendant died as a result of his injuries. However, three years afterward, the plaintiff sued him and his employer on the grounds that the decedent was negligent, that the plaintiff had suffered a head injury as a result, and that the decedent’s negligence was imputed to his employer.

The plaintiff served a summons and complaint addressed to the defendant, which reached his widow. It also served the employer by certified mail. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, to which they attached the DMV’s report of the accident and paperwork showing the decedent’s date of death. They also attached the widow’s affidavit, explaining that her husband had died as a result of the crash and that she was the administrator of his estate.

The defendants argued that the plaintiff had named the wrong party in naming the decedent rather than his estate, and the complaint couldn’t be amended because the statute of limitations was three years, and it had run. It also argued that the plaintiff couldn’t sue it based on vicarious liability because they had not stated a valid direct negligence claim.

The plaintiff argued that the widow’s affidavit hadn’t been served with the motion and that official county clerk records showed no estate for the decedent had been opened. Nonetheless, the court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed and argued that the trial court shouldn’t have admitted the widow’s affidavit in support of the motion, since it hadn’t been timely served with the rest of the motion.

The appellate court explained that the defendants had served the affidavit on the Wednesday before the next week’s Tuesday hearing, and the plaintiff’s attorney had acknowledged receiving the affidavit on the Friday before the hearing. It reasoned that the plaintiff had failed to show that a different result would have been reached if the affidavit hadn’t been admitted. They needed to show they were prejudiced by the decision to admit the affidavit. However, the plaintiff had also introduced documents at the hearing in order to establish facts, which had not been served with the motion.

The court explained that the plaintiff could have had an estate opened in order to sue the estate. In North Carolina, when someone dies, all but certain specified rights in favor of or against the person survive to and against the personal representative of the person’s estate. If there is no estate, plaintiffs can notify the public administrator to apply for the letters testamentary necessary to open the decedent’s estate.

The plaintiff also argued that the trial court shouldn’t have granted summary judgment to the employer. The appellate court explained that the tractor-trailer company was right that summary judgment for the decedent was a determination on the merits, and therefore the vicarious liability claim also failed.

If you were hurt or a loved one was killed in a truck accident, the experienced attorneys of Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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