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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: Fighting Fires and Fog On Roads

I. Conditions are Grim

There’s a great chance you remember some recent forest fires, in part because of the impact they had on your driving. If you don’t specifically remember, for example, the major fires and auto accidents, now over 10 years ago in Northumberland County, you certainly remember driving recently with very foggy conditions. There are many instances where the design of the road or other maintenance conditions may create liability for the state of North Carolina or local city or county governments. The type of lawsuit when there’s an auto accident, limits on when the suit may be filed, and what type of government unit is involved, are all reasons to consult as soon as possible with a qualified Charlotte car accident lawyer/attorney.

II.  Choices of a Lifetime

One grievous case of questionable government road controls involved the death of Darrell M. in an accident In Northampton County. Darrell’s wife was to go on to fight for justice and recovery in this loss.

It happens so quickly. Here, the woman driving the car later testified that she just couldn’t see very well. Smoke and fog and tough driving conditions, including other vehicles, were working to make routine driving tasks dangerous and difficult. Recognizing this she asked another person in the car, Mike M., to take over driving duties. Soon thereafter, Mike collided with another vehicle, Thomas H. The cataclysm have begun: a tractor trailer plowed into the back of Mike M’.’s vehicle. Darrel, a passenger, died from injuries of the multiple vehicle wreck.

III.  Forest From the Trees: One Person’s or Public Protection?

At first, questions were raised about whether or not the state forestry ranger had done enough to protect people driving by the forest fire. Because any lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, or state employees, faces unique hurdles, it’s important to be sure that you talk with the right Charlotte car accident lawyer. This is especially important in cases such as this, where transportation on a highway is involved. Interestingly, this case involves Interstate 95. There are many instances where there’s joint state and federal overlap. It is also possible that this case might have involved a different analysis if the highway had been not a federally designated highway but only a state highway. Only having years of legal experience can help address these potential differences of where the accident happened.

One of the primary objectives of an experienced car accident lawyer in auto negligence is to explain whether a duty existed. Here, a duty running from the state employee to an individual who has been hurt. This is crucial, because the State of North Carolina won’t be held liable for negligence unless (among other facts) (a) it has a specific duty and (b) has failed to meet the duty. Governments, in other words, serve the public at large, and don’t usually have specific duties to specific individuals.

This general one person/public rule doesn’t apply in every case. If you have any questions about being harmed individually by a state agency or state employee, it’s important not to assume they are immune.

IV. A Partial Victory

There are two big tests for when a state agency can be sued. One is if the state specifically allows itself to be sued. This is called a waiver of sovereign immunity. The second reason is much more complicated, and involves the facts such as in this case. Is there a duty that goes beyond being a minor “public” duty and also that’s been recognized historically?

It’s been clearly established by car accident lawyers that the State of North Carolina and its local counties can indeed be sued for certain accidents on highways. On the other hand, The General Assembly of North Carolina has also passed a limited waiver of sovereign immunity against employees. This limited waiver, call the North Carolina State Tort Claims Act, is very useful in gathering evidence for possible state employee negligence. The key in this case was to find out what were the boundaries or limits of any duty that was owed specific drivers because of the forest fire. The North Carolina Supreme Court has a fairly practical test for evaluating this idea of “duty.” A court will ask if the state of North Carolina, if it were a private person, would be liable to the plaintiff.

As the legal process went on, the Charlotte car accident lawyer decided that the best way forward was to file specifically against the North Carolina Department of Forestry Resources – The NCDFR.  Notably, the NCDFR did not argue that they were immune from being sued. They argued that they could not be sued in Superior Court. As it turns out, this was a compelling argument for the North Carolina Supreme Court. Instead of deciding about state sovereign immunity generally, the Supreme Court held that the suit should be directed into the North Carolina Industrial Commission under terms of the tort claims act.

One lesson from this case is that every case deserves special attention. The Charlotte car accident lawyer developed the specific statutory job requirements for the NCDFR. For example, the car accident lawyer pointed to language that specified every County would have one appointed “forest ranger and one or more enforcement rangers in each county of a state in which, after careful investigation, the amount of forest land and the risks from forest fires shall, in his judgment, warranty establishment of a forest fire organization.” The Charlotte car accident lawyer pointed to several more specific examples, then went to show that the NCDNR had broad powers to deal with forest fires. Implicit in this argument was that broad powers also create specific duties. The court ultimately decided that these were valid arguments, but: these were meant to be broad powers for the “well-being of the general [emphasis added] public and North Carolina’s forest.”

Once the Court decided in favor of “general” public protection, it had basically decided that this was not the type of authority to give private citizens liability for failing to prevent personal injury because of forest fires. Nevertheless, the car accident lawyer had established that there might be future instances under state law where a special duty might arise to create responsibility for obscured vision crashes.

Conclusions:    

We all live in worlds of “What if?” The way that these possibilities play in the court requires us to have an experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer. People without professional experience in these tragic accidents get understandably overwhelmed by the details. On the other hand, having an experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer addresses the hard facts and realities of what could, and should’ve been done, to mitigate or avoid the accident altogether. This is the real meaning of advocacy addressing tragedy. It’s why you need to have a North Carolina car accident lawyer/attorney on your side. If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in an auto accident—on interstate, state, or county highways —or have questions involving related claims or your legal rights or insurance, please contact us.  You will speak with a Charlotte car accident lawyer who can best answer your questions about how to protect your rights.  There is never a fee for this initial consultation.

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