This was the claim argued recently before the North Carolina Supreme Court, where the families of three people killed (including a mother and her 2-year-old daughter). Families of the decedents argued the state was negligent in failing to take action to install a traffic light at an intersection that was known to require it. The state, in turn, argued the sole cause of the crash were two drag racing drivers.
Now, in Holt v. DOT, the state’s highest court affirmed a $3 million verdict – $1 million on behalf of each of the decedents – to be paid by the state.
The car accident in question happened in 2009, near a residential housing development that had been built three years earlier. Back in 2000, the road had been just two lanes, with a 45-mph speed limit. Then, a developer came along and sought permission from the county (Mecklenburg) to widen the road in order to better accommodate the additional traffic that would result from new residents moving in to the neighborhood.
The county and the state Department of Transportation granted permission for the expansion. A DOT district engineer reviewed the plans prior to completion and it was agreed a traffic light was needed at the main intersection. The DOT would install it but the developer would be responsible to pay for it.
However, it still wasn’t in place when the neighborhood opened in 2006. A number of residents filed complaints with the county that the intersection wasn’t safe. A district engineer again underscored that a traffic signal was needed. It was never installed.
Fast-forward to April 2009. Two young drivers, one in a Mitsubishi Eclipse and another in a Chevy Camaro, sped down the road shortly before 7 p.m. one Saturday. It is believed they were traveling at nearly 90 mph. The driver of the Eclipse, a 20-year-old man, slammed into a Mercedes, driven by a local professor and her 2-year-old daughter. The Camaro, occupied by three unidentified females, sped away. A 13-year-old junior high school student in the Eclipse was killed, as was the professor and her daughter. Another passenger, age 11, in the Eclipse survived.
The 20-year-old driver was later convicted on criminal charges.
Plaintiffs, representatives for the estates of the decedents, filed wrongful death lawsuits against not just the speeding driver (who had limited auto insurance coverage) but also against the developer and the DOT. They asserted negligence for failure to install that traffic light.
The case against the developer went to trial, and plaintiffs prevailed, with developer ordered to pay $6 million in damages. The developer promised an appeal, but a confidential settlement was reached before that happened.
Then the case against the DOT went to trial. The DOT argued it couldn’t have anticipated drivers drag racing at 90 mph down the street. On the contrary, jurors decided speeding drivers was a foreseeable risk. Not only that, but the criminal actions of the speeding drivers did not somehow negate the negligence of the state.
The trial court’s verdict, which had been affirmed by the appellate court, was thus appealed by the state high court as well.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Holt v. DOT, Sept. 23, 2016, North Carolina Supreme Court
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