North Carolina Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Lawsuit Against Dept. of Transportation in Multiple-Fatality Crash

Some traffic accidents aren’t the result of another driver’s negligence. Instead, they may be the result of a poorly designed roadway. In this instance, the injury victims can bring a lawsuit against the government entity responsible for designing and maintaining the roadway under the North Carolina Tort Claims Act. The procedures and rules that govern cases against municipalities are much different than traditional negligence cases, however, which makes it extremely important to consult with an experienced attorney about your claim.

Recently, a North Carolina appellate court considered an appeal in a case involving an allegation that a government entity in North Carolina did not properly design and/or maintain a roadway. The plaintiff filed a claim for damages pursuant to the Tort Claims Act against the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) seeking damages in excess of $1 million. He asserted that the DOT employees were negligent in designing, maintaining, and providing appropriate warning measures for a curve in a roadway next to a pond.

The plaintiff alleged that he was delivering firewood at the end of a rural, dead-end road that featured an “S” curve around a pond and that some of his relatives were following in an SUV behind him. There were no warnings about the curve or speed reduction signs. The driver of the SUV was unfamiliar with the roadway. Plaintiff heard tires screeching and looked in his rear-view mirror to see the SUV tumble into the pond where it landed upside down. Two occupants of the SUV passed away and the third suffered permanent, severe brain damage.

A Deputy Commissioner initially denied the plaintiffs claims and the plaintiff appealed to the full Commission, which upheld the denial. The Commission relied on evidence and testimony from traffic experts including the DOT Traffic Engineer who performed a speed study on the section of roadway at issue. The judge also pointed to evidence suggesting that the driver of the SUV was driving in excess of the speed limit and that this was likely the substantial contributing factor to the crash.

The plaintiff appealed again on many grounds including an assertion that the Commission should have ruled the DOT liable based on a negligently conducted engineering speed study pertaining to the roadway in question. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s contention finding that the plaintiff did nothing more than question the validity of the evidence. Under the Tort Claims Act, the plaintiff was required to show that a government official breached a duty of care owed to the plaintiff and that this breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s damages. The court reviewed the evidence and found that DOT’s speed study was adequate and that its failure to take further measures to address the “S” curve was not negligent. Accordingly, it dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint.

If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident and believe that a government entity may be responsible for your harm we are standing by and ready to speak to you about your injuries. Victims of personal injury accidents usually have countless questions about their rights and how they should make sure that they get the outcome that they deserve. We offer a free consultation to discuss your situation so call us at 1-844-817-8058 or contact us online to get started.