When a tragic motorcycle accident claimed the life of the operator’s wife, who was a passenger on the bike, her daughter sued a grading business nearby for failing to place advance warning signs of danger.
The firm was contracted with the property owner to routinely haul debris from the site to a nearby landfill using a 73,000 pound piece of equipment known as a “pan.” In order to get from one site to another, it had to cross a public road. The pan operator was reportedly moving at an unbroken rate of 30 mph while 20 feet away from the intersection the motorcyclist was approaching.
In the seconds before the crash, the wife had tapped her husband on the shoulder to alert him to a possible hazard. The dust kicked up by the pan was thick, and it was traveling at a fairly fast pace toward the intersection.
The motorcyclist, fearing the driver did not see him and a collision was imminent, “laid down” his bike.
The pan didn’t enter the intersection, but only because it made a hard right turn just prior to entering it. The motorcyclist would later say the pan operator didn’t brake until after he’d laid down his bike. As a result of the crash, his wife was dead. The motorcycle and the pan came to rest within five feet of each other.
At trial in Johnson v. Sam English Grading, Inc., husband/operator testified he only had seconds to react prior to the motorcycle crash. He indicated he wished the driver of the pan would have at least acknowledged him or slowed down as he started to skid.
Over defense objections, plaintiffs in the wrongful death lawsuit testified as to the danger of the intersection. One testified she traveled past the site frequently, and it was dangerous because equipment crossed the public road constantly. Just a few days before the crash, she testified there was a huge piece of equipment that “zoomed across right past her.” At no point was a warning sign or flagman present.
Another witness testified she drove past the site six to eight times daily because she worked nearby. About a month prior to this accident, she testified she had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a pan going across the road, where again, there was no flagman or warning sign. She and her husband knew to slow down and watch for trucks in the road at that intersection.
A third witness said it was common for trucks to pass through the intersection and rare for them to stop. She always reminded herself as she passed to stop and look around for trucks as she drove past the site.
A dump truck driver who witnessed the crash testified it did appear as if the pan was going to enter the intersection before the motorcyclist laid down his bike.
Further, evidence was presented revealing the site owner and grading company had a long-standing private contract that had been renewed and amended many times since 1994. That contract required the grading company to provide a flagman and/or advance warning signs.
Flagman and warning signs were on site at certain times and for certain equipment, but not all the time. Defendant insisted it had those precautions on site every time they were required. However, it objected to presentation of evidence from that private contract – an objection that was overruled.
Jurors sided in favor of plaintiff, finding defendant 65 percent at-fault and motorcycle operator 35 percent at fault, awarding nearly $3 million in damages.
On appeal to the South Carolina Supreme Court, defense argued improper admission of evidence, including the private contract and the testimony of others who lived in the area.
The appellate court disagreed with these arguments, and affirmed the jury’s verdict and award.
Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Johnson v. Sam English Grading, Inc., May 6, 2015, South Carolina Court of Appeals
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