Intervening Negligence by a Plaintiff Motorcyclist in North Carolina

In some motorcycle accident cases in North Carolina, intervening negligence by the plaintiff becomes an issue. An intervening negligent act is a new legal cause that breaks the connection between the injuries and the original cause, and therefore it becomes solely responsible for the injuries.

In Pope v. Bridge Broom, Inc., a North Carolina appellate court considered a wrongful death case involving a motorcycle accident. The decedent had been riding a motorcycle with her husband in Charlotte. The defendant was street sweeping, using four vehicles driving southbound. The defendant’s employee drove a pickup truck at the tail end of the street sweeper, which was supposed to absorb a rear-end impact. There was a warning sign on the truck. The truck was completely in the left land of travel.

The decedent and her husband were riding in clear weather. The driver of a van came up to the street sweeping operation and came to a total stop behind the pickup. He signaled and moved to the center lane. Another driver hit the brakes to let him move over. The husband of the decedent came up in the left lane on his motorcycle, and the husband believed he had to move over to avoid the defendant’s truck, which was just finishing up its street sweeping. When he moved, he braked, but the motorcycle slid for 195 feet and fell over. The decedent was thrown from the motorcycle and died.

The husband sued the defendant, offering expert testimony that the street sweeping company had violated the standards set forth in the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices by failing to position himself in the truck on the shoulder. The expert claimed that the company’s failure to follow these standards was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s wife’s death. No accident reconstruction expert’s testimony was offered.

The defendant’s expert testified that, based on measurements and calculations of the location, the reason for the death was the husband’s inadequate braking. The plaintiff moved for a directed verdict and asked for a jury instruction on negligence per se, which was denied. The court did allow an instruction about intervening negligence. The jury found that the company’s negligence was not the legal cause of the woman’s death. The plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied.

The plaintiff argued that the trial court shouldn’t have denied his motion for a directed verdict because the evidence that the defendant’s negligence was a legal cause of the decedent’s death was undisputed. The appellate court explained that in an earlier case on point, the North Carolina Supreme Court had upheld the entry of directed verdict for a defendant because the evidence showed intervening negligence by a plaintiff motorcyclist. The court concluded that there was no error in the lower court’s admission of the defendant’s expert’s testimony about the measurements and calculations that led him to conclude the plaintiff’s husband had caused the accident.

It ruled that the plaintiff hadn’t shown this testimony was unreliable, and therefore it was properly admitted. The plaintiff also argued that the trial court had erred in giving the jury an instruction on intervening or superseding negligence because the defendant hadn’t shown enough evidence of intervening or superseding negligence on his part.

The court explained that in this case, the jury may have believed the defendant’s expert’s opinion that the husband’s failure to use the front brake was a negligent intervening act. This relieved the defendant of liability. Therefore, there was no error in instructing the jury about intervening negligence. For these and other reasons, the lower court’s ruling was affirmed.

If you were hurt in a motorcycle accident, Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 888-258-1087 or via our online form.

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