Negligence Per Se in a North Carolina Bicycle Accident Lawsuit

In Safron v. Elaine Helena Council, a North Carolina appellate court considered a bicycle accident case. The plaintiff was a graduate student riding her bicycle in Orange County. The defendant, meanwhile, was driving on the same road in her car. When the defendant saw the plaintiff bicyclist, she moved into the left lane and tried to pass. She heard her passenger side mirror drop and stopped her car. The plaintiff pedaled onward for a bit before stopping.

The defendant gave her contact information to the plaintiff, who was at that time standing by her bike. She offered to give the plaintiff a ride home, but the plaintiff decided to wait for a friend to pick her up. The plaintiff didn’t get medical care for a bruise but instead treated it with compresses and an over the counter pain reliever. Later, she went to the UNC student medical center, where they told her to keep doing what she was doing. However, two months later, she started to suffer pain episodes and needed treatment from a physical therapist and doctors.

She sued the defendant for carelessly and recklessly maneuvering her car while passing the plaintiff’s bike. She asked for medical expenses, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. She and the defendant contended damages were contested, but only the defendant claimed that the issue of negligence was contested.

The plaintiff testified at trial about her injuries as well as prior episodes of back pain. The defendant testified that she had slowed to 30 mph when she saw the bicycle and drove over the centerline into the left lane. She also testified she was within 2-3 feet of the plaintiff at the time of passing.

The plaintiff moved for a directed verdict on the question of negligence. The court denied her motion. The jury found the plaintiff wasn’t injured by the defendant’s negligent conduct. Judgment was entered for the defendant, and the plaintiff moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and moved for a new trial. She argued that both parties’ testimony showed that the impact had at least somewhat injured the plaintiff. The trial court denied these motions, and the plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff argued that the defendant’s decision to overtake and pass her bicycle constituted a violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-149(a) and was therefore negligence per se.

Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-149(a), a car that overtakes another vehicle going the same way must pass at least two feet to the left and not drive to the right again until it is safely clear of the vehicle it passed. The appellate court explained that violating this law in passing a vehicle is negligence.

However, the defendant had presented evidentiary conflicts, such as whether the defendant slowed her car and moved across the centerline and whether the mirror could have hit the plaintiff if the plaintiff was still able to pedal. Since there was conflicting evidence about the defendant passing the plaintiff, a directed verdict was improper. It was up to the jury to decide whose version of events to believe, so it was proper to deny the claim that the statutory violation was negligence per se.

If you were injured in a bicycle accident, the experienced personal injury attorneys at 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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