A five-vehicle chain-reaction crash on the interstate through northeast Charlotte left a motorcycle rider dead, one other person hospitalized with serious injuries and all the people affected with major questions about fault and insurance liability.
The deadly wreck happened at around 1:30 am on May 7, 2018, near the Graham Street exit from I-85. According to State Highway Patrol troopers, the incident started when a car ran off the side of the highway and hit a disabled truck on the shoulder. Debris from that collision landed across the roadway, causing a motorcycle rider to lose control and get ejected from his bike.
A Good Samaritan stopped and dragged the motorcyclist to the shoulder, leaving his car in a travel lane. When a tractor-trailer driver swerved to avoid rear-ending the stopped car, he struck and killed the injured motorcycle rider. News reports do not identify the person known to have survived with injuries.
No drivers were immediately charged in relation to the chain-reaction crash on I-85. Even if no one is ticketed or faces criminal prosecution, the family of the motorcyclist who lost his life should have grounds for filing wrongful death claims. The Good Samaritan would be exempt because North Carolina, like most states, has a law that protects individuals who stop to help accident victims. These protections exist to encourage bystanders to render first aid and provide comfort. While the motorist who stepped up to try to save the motorcycle rider did not succeed, he could not foresee the actions of the tractor-trailer operator or the deadly collision.
Specifically, section 90-21.14 of the NC General Statutes states that a person
who voluntarily and without expectation of compensation renders first aid or emergency health care treatment to a person who is unconscious, ill or injured … shall not be liable for damages for injuries alleged to have been sustained by the person or for damages for the death of the person alleged to have occurred by reason of an act or omission in the rendering of the treatment unless it is established that the injuries were or the death was caused by gross negligence, wanton conduct or intentional wrongdoing on the part of the person rendering the treatment.
The individual who tried to rescue the motorcyclist did not cause the crash that spread debris across the interstate, nor did he cause the tractor-trailer operator to lose control. Evidence may show, however, that the driver of the first car that ran off I-85 and hit the parked vehicle was negligent. The commercial truck driver might also have been negligent.
My Carolina wrongful death attorney colleagues and I cannot know what mistakes either or both individuals may have made. But as we explain elsewhere on website, negligence in a car accident is “defined as the failure to act or take the proper care when doing an activity. When a person is negligent, and a victim is injured, the at-fault party has breached the duty of care they have to the public. … The law considers a person negligent when they fail to use a reasonable standard of care. There is a legal expectation that people should act as others would act in similar situations.” Running off the road for any reason often constitutes negligence of the kind that makes a driver liability for settling wrongful death claims.