North Carolina Family Receives $1M Settlement After Teen Dies From Cart Crash Brain Injury | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our North Carolina wrongful death client was a 15-year-old football player attending a sports summer camp when a recklessly driven groundskeeping 4 wheel ATV cart struck him and inflicted a fatal traumatic brain injury (TBI). The deadly crash happened in July 2011.

The instructional camp was being held at and sponsored by a local high school. Following a morning session, the school’s coaches told a group of athletes to clear equipment from the football field. Two of the athletes received specific instructions to use an electric cart to carry water coolers from the field to a nearby gym.

The driver of the cart sped across the field at 20 mph, heading directly for a group of athletes. Most of the athletes dove to the right. Our client dove to the right as the driver swerved in the same direction. He was completely run over by the cart.

The teen remained conscious, but he was incoherent from his TBI. An emergency craniotomy appeared to successfully relieve pressure inside his skull and reduce the swelling of his brain. Still, doctors placed him under heavy sedation so inadvertent motion would not further traumatize his brain.

The teen lingered in a semiconscious state for 10 days before his condition deteriorated rapidly. Doctors listed the cause of death as a herniated brain, which happens when brain tissue gets stretched out of shape.

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Key Legal Strategy

The deceased teenager’s parents hired our North Carolina wrongful death law firm to investigate whether they had grounds to seek monetary damages for things like medical expenses, burial costs and loss of companionship. Our findings on the broad degree of negligence by several adults convinced us to file civil lawsuits against the school’s administrators, the varsity football coach who supervised the sports camp and the driver of the electric cart.

Our lawsuit cited a lack of proper supervision and a failure to have a policy that prohibited students and minors from operating school-owned vehicles. No coaches remained on the field at the time of the fatal crash. Further, most high schools do have formal policies restricting the use of motorized vehicles.

The school where our client suffered his fatal TBI adopted such a policy less than a month after the deadly crash. We could not have presented this last fact to a jury because it pertained to possible future situations rather than the one under consideration, but we did use it as a discussion point when outlining our theory that school administrators recognized their earlier neglect of their duty to protect students.

School administrators based their defense almost entirely on a contention that our client contributed to causing his own death. Under outdated and unjust civil claims laws in North Carolina, a defendant can be relieved of any obligation to compensate an injury or wrongful death victim if a jury finds that the victim contributed to causing the accident.

The defense team even went so far as to present statements from other teens who were on the football field at the time of the crash. The witnesses for the school said that our client could see the approaching cart and failed to try to move out of the way until the last second.

Our North Carolina wrongful death attorneys countered this with testimony from a parent who was on the scene. She confirmed that our client did attempt to dodge the cart but could not do so because the driver suddenly turned into his path.

As it turned out, the question of contributory negligence never went before a jury. The defendants agreed to settle all claims about a week before the trial was scheduled to begin. The parents of the deceased 15 year old accepted a total of $1 million.

Fatal accidents can happen anywhere at any time. This deadly electric cart crash on a North Carolina high school’s football field might seem particularly unexpected, but our North Carolina wrongful death attorneys’ investigation laid out a chain of negligence that implicated many responsible parties. Simple and usual actions nearly all adults would take to protect children would have prevented the accident that left our client with the TBI that claimed his life.

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro and a second staff attorney with co-counsel Randall J. Phillips