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$3M Wrongful Death Lawsuit Judgment Upheld Against State DOT in NC

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is still liable to pay $3 million for the deaths of three people on a state roadway where a traffic signal was promised but never installed. That was the ruling handed down recently by the North Carolina Supreme Court in Holt v. N.C. DOT.highway14

The state appealed the trial court verdict that found it was liable, despite the argument that fault rested solely with two drivers who were drag racing at speeds that topped nearly 90 mph. Justices ruled that fact didn’t negate the DOT’s responsibility to install this traffic light – one engineers knew was needed. Although state officials argued they could not anticipated every illegal action that might take place on a public road, the state high court justices found that speeding vehicles was a foreseeable possibility.

Victims in this case include a local professor and her 2-year-old daughter, who were on their way to church, and a 13-year-old boy who was returning from a nearby amusement park. According to appellate court records, the 13-year-old was riding in a vehicle with his 11-year-old friend, driven by a 20-year-old man. When the driver stopped for traffic at one intersection, he and decedent noticed two female friends in an adjacent vehicle. They began joking and gesturing at one another. When the light turned green, both drivers took off at a high rate of speed in the same direction, approaching the intersection where the professor was preparing to make a left turn. The two young drivers were engaging in a race in which speeds reached 86 mph. 

There was no traffic signal or sign at the intersection where the professor was making her turn. But there should have been, as evidence would later show.

After coming to a stop, the professor crossed the highway in order to make her turn. She was broadsided by the 20-year-old driver. The young females who were involved in the race stopped briefly, but left the scene without offering assistance or waiting for police to arrive. The driver and the 11-year-old were seriously injured. The three others were killed.

The road on which this car accident happened in 2009 had a few years earlier been a two-lane road with a 45 mph speed limit. It was later widened to a four-lane highway with a 55 mph speed limit. A developer attained permission to construct a roadway off that highway that would connect to a residential community. Part of those plans included a traffic signal at that intersection, which the DOT would install and the developer would pay for. But while the road and the residential community was built, the traffic signal was never installed. Residents had even called the DOT repeatedly to complain about this fact.

Plaintiffs sued and later settled with the developer for $6 million. They then took action against the DOT for negligently failing to install this traffic signal, arguing this was the proximate cause of the crash that killed three people. The DOT, meanwhile, argued it was the two speeding motorists’ fault. The DOT conceded it had a duty to install the traffic signal at the intersection and that it breached that duty. The question was whether this was the proximate cause of the crash and resulting deaths. Ultimately, it was decided this failure to erect a traffic signal was the proximate cause of the deaths, and the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

Holt v. N.C. DOT, Sept. 23, 2016, North Carolina Supreme Court

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NHTSA: Unsafe Cars Cost Lives in Florida, Sept. 29, 2016, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog