$1.25 Million Wrongful Death Arbitration Award Following Car Accident | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our North Carolina car accident wrongful death client died when another driver struck him as he attempted to repair his disabled work truck on a rural highway at around 5 am. Our 49-year-old client died at the scene, leaving behind a wife of 18 years and a daughter in her early 20s.


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Key Legal Strategy

Two factors greatly complicated our North Carolina car accident wrongful death attorneys’ attempts to secure insurance settlements for their client’s family. First, our client had stopped in the right lane of a four-lane divided rural highway where the speed limit was 55 mph. Additionally, the driver who hit and killed our client carried no car insurance.

This second issue meant that it did not matter that the at-fault driver pled guilty to failing to reduce speed in order to avoid a collision. Our attorneys needed to find and invoke uninsured motorist provisions of any insurance policies that covered their client as he operated his work truck.

Such policies existed, but none of the insurance companies were willing to offer settlements. Each made some version of the argument that our client acted negligently himself by not moving his disabled truck off the highway and not diving out the way of the oncoming car. Under North Carolina’s rules of contributory negligence for personal injury and wrongful death cases, the insurance companies argued, our client had no legally viable claims.

Accessing the multiple multimillion-dollar policies covering our client at the time of his car accident death required showing that he had no opportunity to move his truck off the highway and that he acted responsibly in all other respects. We did this by, first, pointing to evidence that our client turned on his emergency flashers before exiting the cab.

We next enlisted a truck inspection and repair expert to examine their client’s work truck, which had been towed to a storage facility following the crash. The expert found that all the hydraulic brake fluid had leaked from the truck before our client stopped on the highway. This would have immediately engaged the parking brake, locking up the wheels and rendering the truck immovable. Then, even had the truck driver been able to unlock the wheels, photographs of the location where the fatal accident occurred clearly showed that the highway had no paved shoulder.

Regarding the insurance companies’ contention that their client could have moved out of the way even if he could not move his truck, our wrongful death attorneys offered two explanations. As a trained mechanic, it made sense for the truck driver to inspect and try to fix the brakes. He took the proper precaution of turning on his flashers, and the tailgate of the truck was covered in reflective tape. He had no particular reason to assume approaching drivers could not see him and his truck.

Also, as established by a truck accident reconstruction expert, the at-fault car driver had an unobstructed view of the truck along 1,000 feet of straight highway. But, since a vehicle moving at 55 mph travels 80 feet a second and the car hit the truck driver still going 45 mph, the deceased man would have just over one second to dive clear once he heard the squeal of brakes.

Our wrongful death attorneys presented this evidence to a panel of three arbitrators. During the arbitration hearing, our attorneys also shared findings from an economist who determined that, had he lived and retired at 67, the deceased man would have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The arbitrators decided that the car driver was principally responsible for causing the deadly crash. Since they also decided that the deceased truck driver bore some responsibility, they reduced the cash award they might have made to $1.25 million.

Court: North Carolina State Court, February 2016

Staff: Richard N. Shapiro and Randall E. Appleton, staff attorneys