North Carolina Appellate Court Reverses Award for Plaintiffs in Utility Company Negligence Case Based on Improper Jury Instructions

Bicycle accidents can happen in virtually any situation, leaving the victim with painful injuries and serious financial damages. This includes areas or objects that are maintained by government entities like utilities companies. Although utilities are a necessary component of our modern lives and key infrastructure, when maintained poorly they can put people in serious risk of suffering harm. At Maurer Law, our diligent team of Charlotte bicycle accident lawyers is ready to assist you with reviewing your potential lawsuit and whether you are entitled to compensation.

In a recent lawsuit, the plaintiffs filed damages against a utility company for injuries they sustained when they collided with one of its utility lines at different times that was lying at ground level on a public roadway. During an initial trial, the jury concluded that the defendant acted negligently and that neither plaintiff was contributorily negligent for his or her damages. The defendant appealed the lower court’s judgment based on this verdict. It also appealed the lower court’s denial of its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

On review, the appellate court concluded that the lower court committed a reversible error when it instructed the jury about the doctrine of sudden emergency, which allowed the jury to conclude that neither plaintiff acted in a contributorily negligent manner. The record showed that severe weather caused the utility line to fall from its poles and that the defendant received notice of the fallen power line that same day. The first plaintiff was cycling along the roadway that day when another cyclist in front of her hit the wire and crashed. She was unable to stop before colliding with the cyclist and suffered severe injuries in the ensuing pileup.

The defendant had argued that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent by cycling too close to the cyclist in front of her and that the issue of whether she contributed to her own injuries should have gone to the jury. The appellate court rejected this argument on the basis that the evidence was not clear regarding whether she contributed to her injuries and that there were other reasonable inferences that could be drawn regarding her conduct. Furthermore, any evidence that she was following too closely did not also establish that this caused her injuries. She may have hit the wire regardless of whether anyone was in front of her.

The appellate court did, however, conclude that the lower court should not have instructed the jury on the sudden emergency doctrine. This doctrine excuses a party’s actions that may normally be perceived as negligent where the party was acting in response to a sudden emergency that the party did not cause. It only applies to conduct that occurs after the emergency arises. The appellate court concluded that the evidence in the record did not support this instruction being given to the jury. The defendant’s alleged negligence in failing to remove the wire did not cause the plaintiffs to potentially fail to keep a proper lookout or to travel at a safe speed, for example. The doctrine would apply only if the plaintiffs were keeping a proper lookout and a sudden emergency like a car turning into their lane caused them to swerve into the wire.

If you were injured and believe that you may be entitled to compensation, contact our seasoned team of Charlotte bicycle accident lawyers as soon as possible. We will meet with you in a free consultation to discuss your situation and whether we can assist you with asserting your rights. Call us today at 1-888-258-1087 or contact us online to get started.

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