The deaths of three people – a 2-year-old, her young mother and a 13-year-old boy – didn’t need to happen. Those who survive them say there were numerous points at which the tragedy could have been prevented.
Maybe if the drivers of two other vehicles hadn’t been racing at speeds of nearly 90 mph. Maybe if the racing driver who wasn’t struck hadn’t sped away without offering help or calling an ambulance. Maybe if the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NDOT) had installed a traffic light at the intersection where it happened.
That last point was the issue being decided in the recent case of Holt v. NCDOT, recently before the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In weighing an appeal by the state of a $3 million damage award to the families of the decedents, the appeals court ruled in plaintiff’s favor, affirming the award.
According to court records, the mother and her 2-year-old daughter were driving a half mile away from home to their church. She tried to make a left turn from her street onto Highway 49 toward downtown Charlotte. She slowed for other traffic ahead when she was broadsided by 20-year-old driver traveling 86 mph. Inside the young man’s car were two boys, ages 11 and 13. The trio was returning from Carowinds amusement park.
Mother, daughter and the 13-year-old died. It was later revealed the 20-year-old had been drag racing with another vehicle. He’d stopped at the previous intersection red light where the younger boys recognized two girls in the other vehicle. They began making faces at one another, and when the light changed, the two drivers started to race. There was no traffic light at the intersection where the crash occurred. The other racing driver stopped briefly and then sped away, without calling for help.
The two racing drivers were later arrested on manslaughter charges and sent to prison.
Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the NCDOT, alleging the department negligently failed to install a needed traffic light at that intersection.
Nine years prior to the deadly car accident, the agency conducted significant changes to that intersection and portion of the road. Lanes were added and speed increased. At the time the intersection was designed and then again in 2006, engineers at the agency warned that a signal was needed immediately. But no funds were provided and no signal was installed.
NCDOT did not deny that it had a duty to install the signal and breached that duty. However, they asserted this failure wasn’t the proximate cause of the crash. Rather, they argued, it was the superseding criminal acts of the two racing drivers that caused the collision.
A single deputy commissioner for the Industrial Commission decided the case in favor of the DOT, finding the agency could not have predicted the criminal actions of defendant. However the full commission reversed, awarding $1 million for each decedent. The full commission stated that while the criminal actions of the other drivers was a proximate cause of the crash, it wasn’t the only one.
Further, it was noted that the driver who struck the young mother had encountered several other traffic lights prior to reaching that intersection, and he’d obeyed each of them. That suggests he likely would have stopped had there been another traffic signal.
The appeals court affirmed.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Holt v. NCDOT, Feb. 2, 2016, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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